An increase in the misuse of prescription stimulants on campus is a possible consequence of celebrity-endorsed ADHD-awareness campaigns such as “Own It,” endorsed by Maroon 5’s lead singer Adam Levine.
As part of the campaign, which is funded by the biopharmaceutical distributor Shire, Levine’s message to adults and young adults diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as children is “It’s your ADHD. Own it.”
In order to “own it,” the campaign’s website and televised commercials urge adults to take an online quiz in order “to recognize your symptoms like inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity. Then talk with your doctor.”
The problem, according to Brian Kelly, a Purdue professor who specializes in young adults and prescription drug misuse, is that while these campaigns decrease stigma surrounding ADHD, they also increase prescription stimulant misuse and abuse.
Prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse, work by increasing the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. In long term users, this can lead to paranoia, hostility and addiction.
“I think it’s important to decrease stigma surrounding conditions like ADHD, so the people who need treatment in order to reach their potential are able to get the care they need,” Kelly said. “The downside is with regards to the abuse problem and the significant increase in prescription stimulant medication in young adults.”
In 2008, researchers from Harvard Medical School and other partners found that as many as 5 to 35 percent of college students have used non-prescribed stimulants in the past year.
“By having a young rock star promoting, in indirect ways, the use of a particular drug,” Kelly said, “it may have the downside of making off-label use ... without a prescription more palpable for some people.”
Kelly also said the fact that most college students don’t take their ADHD medication every day makes it especially easier for the medicine to be distributed to other students.
“The medication is prescribed as if they’re regularly taking a daily dose,” he said. “But we find intermittent patterns of use which, when combined with having a regular prescription, means that there’s leftover. Often we’re seeing that young adults are providing their friends who don’t have a prescription with access to the drugs if they want to use it for a study aid or cramming for finals or such things.”
Matthew Murawski, an associate professor of pharmacy administration, agrees that celebrity endorsements can increase demand for these products, like any other product that endorsed by celebrities.
However, he questions whether a celebrity should influence people’s decisions about their health.
“It’s like actors and singers using their fame to influence the political process. It’s not like they have Ph.D.s in political science,” Murawski wrote in an email. “I would argue no, but I can’t support legislation to prevent it – that’s like trying to outlaw stupidity. At some point, we have to let Darwinism do its thing. But I would think far less of the actor.”