Amid an opioid and heroin epidemic, doctors and drug experts in the state are concerned about a new trend involving the abuse of stimulant medication used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration data, there have been more than 19,000 reports of medical complications from stimulant drugs like Ritalin and Adderall over the past three years.

Federal data suggests recreational use of stimulant drugs has risen by more than 400 percent since 2014.

“This is very concerning because there is really very little research on both the short term and the long term potential impact that using these drugs can have on a brain,” said Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey.

Dr. Aykut Ozden, an addiction psychiatrist at CarePoint Health Christ Hospital in Jersey City, agrees this kind of abuse is getting worse, especially among high school and college students.

Using these stimulant drugs without the supervision of a doctor is risky, he says, because “you can have irregular heartbeat and if you are prone to any cardiac condition you could even have worse —you could even drop dead. It’s not unheard of.”

He said culturally many younger people think it’s cool to take stimulant medication, but the problem goes beyond teens and Millennials.

“I get calls from adults asking for Adderall. They don’t have ADHD but they just want to focus better, they want to be more alert, they want to be more productive,” he said. “They do a self diagnosis and it’s unfortunate because they don’t understand these medications can also cause harm.”

Valente says everyone should be very careful about using these drugs because there may be negative consequences down the road.

“We also know when people are willing to experiment with one drug they are more willing to try another one, and that’s disturbing,” he said.

According to Dr. Lewis Nelson, the Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, patients are using these drugs to improve focus and concentration, and also to get high.

He stressed this can be extremely dangerous because it can cause reactions like “very elevated blood pressure and heart rates, constriction of the blood vessels in various organs, which can lead to organ failure including kidney failure and heart attacks and strokes.”

He pointed out when these types of medications are abused “cardiovascular and neurological systems are most adversely affected, and even at low doses these effects occur.”

Nelson says the improper use of stimulant drugs has become an epidemic.

“And we know people suffer from significant organ damage leading to prolonged hospitalizations and incomplete recoveries,” he said.

“The fact that some family member or friend is able to use this for their underlying medical problem such as ADHD doesn’t mean it’s safe to be used by another person. And it’s impossible to predict who is going to have an adverse effect. These drugs are dangerous and they shouldn’t be shared or sold or given away.”

Contact reporter David Matthau at

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