Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Well now, this is a surprise

A few weeks back I attempted to define the concept of "drugs." As we've discussed quite a bit over the eons here, on the one hand the government wants you to know that "speed kills," on the other hand doctors are prescribing speed to perhaps 2% of American school children. Now, if you hand out a dangerous and street saleable drug to large numbers of kids, what might happen?

Right. Lots of kids will show up in emergency rooms with adverse consequences of drug abuse. Rather interestingly, the rate at which kids 12-17 taking Ritalin for "medical" use visit EDs for adverse consequences was about the same as the rate for kids taking it for "non-medical" uses. For kids taking amphetamine, there are more visits to EDs for non-medical use than for medical use, but both rates are much higher than the rates for young adults, who you would normally expect to be more at risk for drug abuse. We usually see the prevalence of illegal drug use rising after age 18, but in the case of these particular drugs, acute adverse consequences of both illegal use and of prescription use appear to be more prevalent in teenagers than in young adults.

A separate SAMHSA survey finds that prevalence of illicit use is higher than in young adults, but that is obviously not reflected in ED visits. Maybe college kids can use speed more safely -- it was very common when I was in college during final exam week, and as far as I know nobody died from it -- but I remain very skeptical of such widespread prescribing to children.

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