Perth, a case study in ADHD amphetamine abuse

The West Australian experience makes a mockery of the ADHD industry claims that amphetamines, when prescribed to ADHD children, prevent drug abuse. The evidence is unequivocal, it clearly supports the common sense proposition that prescribing amphetamines facilitates the abuse of amphetamines.

Despite the clear warnings for addiction and abuse, one of the most aggressively marketed claims about ADHD is that its ‘under-recognition’ is a cause of illicit drug abuse. It is argued by the ADHD industry that early identification of ADHD and subsequent medication prevents undiagnosed individuals using illicit drugs to self-medicate.[1]In the 1990s and early 2000s Western Australia, particularly Perth, had Australia’s highest ADHD amphetamine prescription rate. If the above claims about drug abuse were correct, it would be expected that WA rates of drug abuse would have been among the lowest in Australia.

The evidence suggests the opposite. When WA had Australia’s highest dexamphetamine prescription rate, it also had the highest amphetamine abuse rates and relatively high rates of abuse for other illicit drugs.[2] In 1999 illicit amphetamine abuse rates among secondary school children were the highest in the nation, over double the national average. Abuse rates for cannabis, tranquillisers, steroids, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and LSD/hallucinogenics were all above the national average.[3]

Conversely when Perth’s prescribing rates for children plummeted so did amphetamine abuse rates. Between 2002 and 2008 there was a 51 per cent reduction (for people aged twelve to seventeen years of age) in rates of abusing amphetamines in the last 12 months.[4] This massive decline occurred at the same time as a huge fall (60 to 70 per cent) in child prescribing rates. (Refer to Rise and Fall of Child ADHD in Western Australia)

Far from validating the assertion that medicating for ADHD prevents illicit drug abuse by self-medicating untreated ADHD sufferers, the West Australian experience makes a mockery of the ADHD industry claims. WA’s experience provides unequivocal evidence supporting the commonsense proposition that prescribing amphetamines facilitates their abuse.

Note: Even though abuse rates began to drop by 2005, a survey of Western Australian secondary school students (the Australian School Students Alcohol and Drug Survey or ASSAD) found that 84 per cent of those who had abused amphetamines in the last year had abused prescription amphetamines.[5] The same survey found that 27 per cent of twelve to seventeen-year-olds who had been prescribed stimulant medication either gave it away or sold it.[6]

Also refer to Claire Murray (14 March 1984 – 1 April 2010) A casualty of Perth’s Generation deX. and Perth’s Dexamphetamine Hangover.

[1] For instance, see Dave Coghill, ‘Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: should we believe the mass media or peer-reviewed literature?’, The Psychiatrist, 29, 2005, pp. 228-91; Dr Ken Whiting, Fact Sheet: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder 2003 Update,Learning and Attentional Disorders Society of WA, Perth, 2003.
[2] From 1995-2004 Western Australia had the highest rate of illicit drug abuse of any Australian state. The rates of abuse of amphetamines were also the highest in Australia. Source: 2004 National Drug Strategy Household survey, State and Territory Supplement. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra, 2005.
[3] 1999 Australian School Students Alcohol and Drugs Survey quoted in Kate Gauntlett, ‘Drugs so easy to find’, The West Australian,14 June 2003.

[4] The 2008 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug Survey (ASSAD) data indicated a reduction in ‘last 12 month amphetamine abuse’ by school children 12-17 years old from 10.3 per cent in 2002, 6.5 per cent in 2005, and 5.1 per cent in 2008. P. Griffiths, R. Kalic, & A. Gunnell, Australian School Student Survey 2008: Western Australian Results (excluding tobacco), Brief Communication no. 2, Drug and Alcohol Office, Perth, 2009.

[5] Drug and Alcohol Office WA, ASSAD Drug Report 2005, Mt Lawley, March 2007, pp. 30-32.

[6] ibid. p. 33.