TIME medicine

6 Common Prescription Mistakes You Might Be Making

Pill bottles
Getty Images

In honor of Talk About Your Medicines Month

It’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t a pill—sometimes dozens of different ones—to treat so many health conditions. Today, 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug and more than half take two, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While the healing powers of modern medicine are pretty awesome, you still need to be cautious when it comes to any drug. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure 1.3 million people annually.

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In honor of Talk About Your Medicines Month, read up on common mistakes to avoid with your prescriptions.

You get the brand name over generic

Yes, they’re cheaper, but generic drugs are just as effective as the brand name. To be approved by the FDA, a generic drug must have the same active ingredients as the original. The only difference is the inactive ingredients, like dye or preservatives, which don’t affect the action of the drug. “Small variations in the generic are permissible,” says Kim Russo, PharmD, chief clinical officer at VUCA Health, a medication video service available at certain pharmacies nationwide. “Most of the time we don’t even medically notice it.” If you don’t tolerate one of the inactive ingredients well, then you might need the brand name. Otherwise, save yourself the money and go with the generic.

You mix your meds with the wrong foods (or drinks)

Always check what foods or drinks could interact with your medicine. One to watch out for: grapefruit and grapefruit juice. “As many as 50 drugs on the market can be affected,” Russo says. Depending on the drug, grapefruit juice can reduce or increase absorption­—the latter could lead to overdose. Then there are certain drugs that shouldn’t be taken with calcium-rich foods because they interfere with your body’s absorption of the medication, Russo says. Plus, there are medications that cause you to lose or retain potassium, so you’ll want to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether you need to start (or stop) eating certain foods. And you should ask your doctor if it’s OK to drink alcohol while taking your prescription. “Alcohol can turn possible mild side effects into dangerous ones,” Russo says. The FDA has more info on bad food-drug combos.

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You don’t check your Rx label at the pharmacy

To save yourself the stress of a medication error, make sure you have the right prescription before you leave the pharmacy. If your pharmacist only asks for your name at the counter, provide another identifier, like a birth date or address. That way you’ll know the drug is filled under the correct person, Russo says. Another good idea: open your bag. “I would read the label and open the prescription to see if you recognize it,” Russo says. A different color or shape may just mean the drug is coming from a new generic manufacturer, but it never hurts to be safe.

You don’t talk to your pharmacist

Most pharmacists will ask if you have questions about your medication. But when’s the last time you actually voiced one? It’s never a good idea to rush through picking up a new prescription. That’s the time to find out what the medicine is for as well as the benefits and possible side effects or drug interactions, Russo says. If you’ve been on the medication a while and have noticed unexplained changes lately, say a rash or constant headache, that’s also a good time to speak up. On three or more medications? “It’s a great idea once a year to make an appointment with your pharmacist to review them,” Russo suggests.

HEALTH.COM: 15 Tips for Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

You store your meds in the wrong spots

The number one worst place you could keep your medication is the bathroom. That’s because moisture can degrade medicine, Russo says. Medications also need to be protected from light. “That’s why prescription vials are the amber color, to block UV light,” Russo says. Still, you should keep medication in a dark place, especially if you have a pill organizer that’s clear and light can get through. Certain drugs shouldn’t be taken out of the vial at all. Some medications, like insulin, might need to be refrigerated initially, but can be taken out to warm up before injecting and then stored at room temperature for a set number of days. Just keep in mind some drugs are meant to be kept in the fridge and they can lose their effectiveness if left at room temperature for even a few hours, Russo says. Check with your pharmacist to know how long is too long.

You don’t dispose of old meds properly

Most pills remain effective up to two years after the expiration date, Russo says. When it’s time to get rid of them, though, don’t count on the toilet as your go-to disposal method. “Flushing certain cardiac, seizure, or hormone medications can be very harmful to the environment,” Russo says. Only a few medications, including ones for pain, are recommended by the FDA for disposal by flushing. The rest you should throw in a plastic bag with kitty litter or used coffee grounds so kids or pets won’t be tempted to eat them. Then, the bag’s ready for the trash. You could also ask your pharmacist about upcoming medicine take-back programs.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

MONEY Medicare

Some Medicare Advantage Plans Have Hidden Risks—Here’s How to Avoid Them

hands using measuring tape
Nils Kahle

Although they promise quality care at lower cost, some Medicare Advantage plans fall short. Before you enroll, here are key questions to ask.

Seniors have flocked to Medicare Advantage in recent years, attracted by savings on premiums and the convenience of one-stop shopping. But as the annual Medicare enrollment season began this week, a memorandum from federal officials to plan providers surfaced that serves as a big red warning flag.

The upshot: Assess the quality of any Advantage plan before you sign up.

The memorandum, first reported by the New York Times, described ongoing compliance problems uncovered in federal audits of Advantage and prescription drug plans. These include inadequate rationales for denial of coverage, failure to consider clinical information from doctors and failure to notify patients of their rights to appeal decisions. The audits also uncovered problems with inappropriate rejection of prescription drug claims.

Advantage is a managed care alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare. It rolls together coverage for hospitalization, outpatient services and, usually, prescription drugs. Advantage plans also cap your out-of-pocket expenses, making Medigap supplemental plans unnecessary.

The savings can be substantial. Medigap plan premiums can cost $200 monthly or more, and stand-alone drug plans will average $39 a month next year. Enrollees have been voting with their wallets: 30% are in Advantage plans this year, up from 13% in 2005, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Advantage plans are subject to strict rules and regulations, and must cover all services offered in original Medicare, with the exception of hospice services. Some offer extra coverage, such as vision, hearing, dental and wellness programs.

And there is evidence that the quality of these plans is rising. Medicare uses a five-star rating system to grade plan quality, and plans can earn bonus payments based on their ratings. Average enrollment-weighted star ratings increased to 3.92 for 2015, from 3.86 in 2013 and 3.71 in 2013, according to Avalere Health, an industry research and consulting firm. Avalere projects that 60% of Advantage enrollment will be in four- or five-star plans next year, up from 52% this year.

But the Medicare memorandum focuses on problems outside the rating system. “It’s about basic blocking and tackling and whether a plan adheres to the program’s technical specs,” says Dan Mendelson, Avalere’s chief executive officer. “These are the basic functions that every plan should be able to handle.”

Nevertheless, consumer advocates say they deal with these compliance problems regularly, and more often with enrollees in Advantage than in traditional Medicare.

“The most typical problems have to do with plans that are making it difficult or impossible for people to get their medications,” says Jocelyn Watrous, an advocate for patients at the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “They impose prior authorizations or other utilization management rules that they make up out of whole cloth.”

Consumer advocates urge Medicare enrollees to restrict their shopping this fall to four- and five-rated plans, of which plenty are available in most parts of the country. “If a plan consistently gets four or five stars, all other things being equal it will be a high performer,” says Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center.

Few Medicare enrollees roll up their sleeves to shop, however. A study by Kaiser found that, on average, just 13% of enrollees voluntarily switched their Advantage or drug plans over four recent enrollment periods. And focus groups with seniors conducted by the foundation last May found that few pay attention to the star ratings.

“Seniors said they don’t use the ratings because they don’t feel they reflect their experiences with plans,” said Gretchen Jacobson, associate director of the foundation’s Medicare program. “Even when we told them that their plan only has two stars, many just wanted to stay in that plan.”

Advocates say the star ratings are just a starting point for smart shoppers.

They say you should check to make sure health providers you want to see are in a plan’s network. You should also consider how you would react if any of those providers disappeared during the 12 months that you are locked into the plan. Advantage plans can—and do—drop providers. UnitedHealth Group, the industry’s largest player, made headlines last year when it dropped thousands of doctors in 10 states. Advantage plans in Florida, Pennsylvania, California and Delaware also terminated provider relationships.

Also be sure to examine the prescription drug “formularies” in your plan—the rules under which your medications are covered. And talk with your doctors about any plan you are considering, especially if you see specialists for a chronic condition.

The Medicare memorandum to plans also underscores the importance of appealing denied claims, Baker says. “Appeal, appeal, appeal—it’s like ‘location, location, location’ in real estate.”

MONEY Medicare

What You Need to Know About Medicare Open Enrollment

Pharmacy
You can shop for a new drug plan starting October 15. Getty Images—Getty Images

Your once-a-year chance to change your drug coverage or switch plans begins in two weeks. Here's what to expect.

Medicare beneficiaries who want to make changes to their prescription drug plans or Medicare Advantage coverage can do so starting Oct. 15 during the Medicare’s program’s annual open enrollment period. There will be somewhat fewer plans to pick from this year, but in general people will have plenty of options, experts say.

And although premiums aren’t expected to rise markedly overall in 2015—and in some cases may actually decline—some individual plans have signaled significantly higher rates. Rather than rely on the sticker price of a plan alone, it’s critical that beneficiaries compare the available options in their area to make sure they’re in the plan that covers the drugs and doctors they need at the best price.

The annual open enrollment period is also a once-a-year opportunity to switch to a private Medicare Advantage plan from the traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan or vice versa. Open enrollment ends Dec. 7.

Although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released some specifics about 2015 premiums and plans, many details about provider networks, drug formularies and the like won’t be available until later this fall. Here’s what we know so far:

Standalone Prescription Drug Plans

The number of Part D standalone prescription drug plans (PDPs) will drop 14%, to 1001 plans. This is the smallest number of offerings since the Medicare Part D program began in 2006.

Even so, “seniors across the country will still have a choice of at least two dozen plans in their area,” says Tricia Neuman, director of the Program on Medicare Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The drug plan consolidations that are driving the reductions in choices will likely shift many beneficiaries into lower cost plans, resulting in an average premium decline of 2%, to $38.95, according to an analysis by Avalere Health.

But that overall average premium obscures significant price hikes by some of the biggest plans. The average premium for the WellCare Classic plan, for example, will increase 52% in 2015, to $31.46, while the Humana Walmart RxPlan premium will rise 24%, to $15.67, according to Avalere.

Insurers are expected to continue to shift more costs to beneficiaries next year. The percentage of PDP plans with no deductible will decline to 42% from 47%, and, once again, about three quarters of plans won’t offer any coverage in the “donut hole”— the coverage gap in which beneficiaries are responsible for shouldering a greater share of their drug costs.

Underscoring the importance of evaluating plan options, 70% of standalone drug plan members will likely see their premiums increase if they stick with the same plans in 2015, says Ross Blair, senior vice president for eHealthMedicare.com, an online vendor.

Seniors, though, have historically not voluntarily switched plans in great numbers during annual enrollment. Between 2006 and 2010, on average only 13% did so, according to a 2013 analysis by researchers at Georgetown University, KFF and the University of Chicago.

Medicare Advantage

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans continues to grow: 30% of Medicare beneficiaries are now in the private plans, which typically are managed care plans that often provide additional benefits such as vision and dental coverage. Concerns that Medicare Advantage plans would disappear in large numbers as the health law gradually reduces their payments to bring them in line with the traditional Medicare program have proven unfounded to date. In 2015, the number of plans will drop by 3%, to 2,450, continuing a gradual decline.

“You still have lots of plans and robust selection,” says Caroline Pearson, vice president at Avalere Health, a research and consulting firm. Some parts of the country appear to be harder hit by plan reductions than others, including the Southeast and mid-Atlantic regions, Pearson says.

Medicare Advantage coverage has always been concentrated in health maintenance organizations, and this trend will continue in 2015. The number of HMOs will increase by 1.5%, to 1,747, while the number of preferred provider organizations will drop by nearly 9%, to 541, according to Avalere. About two-thirds of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries are currently in HMOs, while 31% are in PPOs.

The average premium will increase by $2.94 to $33.90, but nearly two-thirds of beneficiaries won’t see any premium increase, according to CMS. Like standalone drug plans, however, fewer Medicare Advantage drug plans will offer no deductibles and gap coverage, according to Avalere.

“It’s one example of how plans are tightening up coverage,” and pushing more costs onto consumers, says Pearson.

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

TIME medicine

Soon You Can Send Your Expired Painkillers Through the Mail

painkiller pills
Getty Images

The DEA has a new way to get rid of extra meds

How to get rid of leftover medication is a tricky question—keep it around and it can get into the wrong hands, but dispose of it improperly and you risk contaminating the environment.

That’s why in the past, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has held National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Last April, the DEA reported that it collected 780,000 pounds of prescription drugs, and during the event on Sept. 27, a single county in Virginia dropped off 1,200 pounds of drugs. But even though half a ton of drugs for one county is certainly a coup, it was the last event of its kind—because soon, through an innovative new program, Americans will be able to safely abandon their unused pills at any time.

The DEA first recognized the leftover pill problem because the Controlled Substances Act had no outlined provisions for how people could get rid of their unused or expired prescription drugs. According to the DEA, people would keep them in their medicine cabinets (which made it possible for them them to be abused), toss them in the trash or flush them down the toilet. The latter method was discovered to contaminate water supplies.

In 2010, the Drug Disposal Act gave the DEA the authority to create a framework for how the general public and facilities could dispose of prescription pills properly and safely. On Sept. 9 the regulations were approved, and the DEA says it will start implementing the plan in early October. The new regulations allow Americans to get rid of their excess drugs at pharmacies or police departments with drop-off receptacles. Patients will also be able to grab envelopes from places like hospitals that they can use to mail their pills to authorized collectors, who will make sure the pills are properly incinerated. “It will be more convenient because once these rules are implemented, then people can do it all the time,” a DEA spokesperson told TIME.

The number of Americans abusing prescription drugs has dropped in the last couple years, but the DEA says the 6.5 million people who reportedly abused prescription drugs in 2013 is double the number of people who use hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, LSD and Ecstasy combined.

TIME medicine

Generic Drug Discount Programs Work — for Everyone

Americans are increasingly participating in programs that fill cheaper versions of prescription drugs

More and more Americans are buying the cheaper generic versions of prescription drugs, new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows.

In 2006, Walmart introduced what would become one of many generic drug discount programs that allowed people to pay just $4 to fill prescriptions of generic drugs. The program was meant to help people meet difficult medical costs–especially more vulnerable groups like the elderly and low-income populations.

At first, the program didn’t appear to gain a lot of traction. In 2007, only 3.6% of patients receiving prescription drugs were partaking in a program. But similar programs popped up at other pharmaceutical retailers like Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens and has since gotten much more popular.

The researchers looked at a 2010 national household survey of health care usage among patients over age 18 who had at least one prescription during that year. They found that among the 13,486 adults identified in the survey as having at least one drug prescription, 3,208 were users of generic drug discount programs, and overall program use was at about 23%–much higher than the 3.6% participation rate three years earlier.

Researchers also found that people who were elderly, sick, uninsured and living in rural areas were more likely to participate in the programs, but interestingly, there were no significant differences across education levels or race/ethnicity groups. “Generic drug discount programs were not considered inferior despite the common perception that generic drugs are of poor quality,” the study authors write. “In fact, generic drug discount programs offer convenience by not requiring insurance claims to be filed.”

The researchers think the mere fact that more pharmaceutical retailers have offered similar programs is one of the reasons there’s greater uptake across the board, and while participation could still be higher, plenty of people of different backgrounds are taking part in the cost savings programs.

TIME Drugs

1 in 10 Americans Has Gone to Work High on Cannabis, Poll Says

Are your co-workers high on life — or something else?

One in 10 Americans has turned up for work high on marijuana, according to new statistics.

A joint Mashable.com and SurveyMonkey poll of 534 Americans found that about 9.7% of U.S. workers have gone to work after smoking weed.

Some 81% of those people bought the drug illegally, the poll found — that is, did not purchase it in Colorado or Washington, where the drug is legal for recreational purposes, or were not taking it for medical reasons in one of the 23 states where doing so is legal.

The poll also found that 28% of poll respondents have gone to work under the influence of a prescription drug, and 7% of those people took it for recreational, not medical, purposes. About 95% of people who have been at work while on a prescription drug got the medicine from their doctor.

Last month, a poll from Blowfish (the company sells a tablet to treat hangovers) said that half of all Americans have gone to work hungover.

MONEY

6 Surprising Reasons Eating Right Pays Off

French Fry Packaging with rolled up dollar bills
Saying no to the fries is a smart money choice. Mike Kemp—Getty Images

You know a better diet will make you fitter and healthier. What you may not realize is that replacing fries with a salad can help your finances too.

Eating healthy can make you look and feel better, but it can also be great for your wallet. Whether by reducing medical costs or helping you earn more, a healthy diet has benefits beyond a slimmer waistline. Consider these ways your diet can improve your finances:

1. You’ll Lower the Likelihood of Needing to Take a Sick Day

Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals that help boost your immune system so it can better fight off viruses and bacterial infections. Staying healthy during flu season means you can go to work and get that paycheck (or promotion), and you won’t have to spend money on meds and extra doctor’s visits.

Not only does consuming a lot of produce increase your immunity in the short term, but it also helps prevent disease in the long run. Notably, eating more vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease, which afflicts about a third of all adults and costs about $444 billion a year to treat in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2. You Can Stay More Productive

Not much is better for your finances than making more money, and one way to do that is to work harder. According to 2012 research conducted at Brigham Young University, eating healthy can help you do that. The researchers evaluated 19,800 employees at three large companies and found that eating well every day may lower your risk of productivity loss by 66%. They also found that exercise lowered the risk of lost productivity by 50%, and getting five fruit and vegetable servings lowered the risk by 39%. (Other research has found that frequent exercise is connected to higher pay.)

3. You Can Take Fewer Pills

Disease costs a lot of money in terms of doctor’s visits, procedures, surgeries, and medical devices, but a large chunk of medical spending goes toward prescriptions that could be discontinued. In fact, three of the top five most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. are for preventable heart conditions, adding up to more than 160 million scripts per year. Keeping your heart healthy and your weight down through diet will help reduce the need for these medications and the monthly expense that goes along with them.

4. You’ll Steer Clear of Complications

When you’re unhealthy or obese, you’re more likely to have complications with an existing condition. For example, obesity decreases lung performance and is thought to exacerbate asthma symptoms. But foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can increase lung performance. In addition, high blood pressure and diabetes can complicate your pregnancy, according to the CDC, and those costs can add up. Eating a healthy diet and keeping a normal body weight can help you avoid these problems.

5. You’ll Age Better

When most people think of retirement planning, they think of 401(k)s and IRAs. That’s a great start, but if there’s anything that can deplete your retirement funds, it’s unplanned medical costs. Studies conducted over the past 20 years show that plant-based and Mediterranean diets increase longevity and health, helping you work longer (if you want), save more toward retirement, and hopefully spend less on health care later.

More recently, researchers in Rome and the Washington University School of Medicine jointly published a paper that concluded that calorie restriction may be the best way to prevent disease and lengthen lifespan—even for people at a normal weight. The paper, published in 2011, took into account studies on rodents and humans. More human studies are needed, but the paper provided a basis for in-depth trials to come.

6. Your Insurer May Reward You

Employers and insurers are doing what they can to get you to eat right and work out (and need less high-cost medical care). That can mean discounts on the food you should be eating. The health-care network Harvard Pilgrim rewards workers for buying healthy food (up to $20 a month) and recently announced that it would roll out the program to other employers. Blue Cross Blue Shield offers Jenny Craig discounts, and Humana gives members a 10% discount on healthy groceries purchased at Wal-Mart.

Read more from NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care, and insurance.

 

TIME Drugs

It’s Easy to Overdose on Tylenol, Study Warns

Tylenol Pills Spilling Out Of Bottle
Shelley Dennis—Getty Images

A new analysis from Consumer Reports calls out the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for inconsistent and potentially dangerous labeling of acetaminophen painkillers

The rise in prescriptions and non-prescription use of painkillers in the U.S. is no secret – in the past decade, prescriptions for opioids have skyrocketed by 300%, making them the most prescribed drugs in the country.

And the consequences of that spike can be deadly, according to the latest report from Consumer Reports: nearly 17,000 people die each year from overdosing on painkillers.

Equally alarming is the rise in other popular painkillers that also have over-the-counter (OTC) versions. Acetaminophen, which includes Tylenol and other generic brands, causes more than 80,000 emergency room visits each year because people often aren’t aware they’re taking too much. The drug is found in more than 600 over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as allergy and cold remedies and sleep aids.

To address the potential for accidental overdose of acetaminophen, the FDA asked physicians earlier this year to stop prescribing more than 325mg of acetaminophen to patients, noting that there isn’t evidence that higher doses provide any additional benefit for relieving pain and that high levels of the drug are linked to liver damage. But the warning did not apply to OTC versions of the drug, which account for 80% of acetaminophen use in the U.S., and are still available in higher doses.

MORE: Tylenol and Panadol Prove No Better Than Placebo at Helping Back Pain

The Consumer Report authors also say that OTC drugs have inconsistent advice about how much acetaminophen is too much for people to take in a day. “We found recommendations varying from 1,000mg per day in some nighttime pain relievers to 3,900 milligrams in some products that combine acetaminophen with allergy drugs or cold and flu drugs. We think the labeled daily limit should be no more than 3,250 milligrams,” they write.

Regarding opioids, the authors call for the FDA to reconsider its December 2013 approval of Zohydro ER, a long-acting version of hydrocodone, over concerns that longer-acting forms are more likely to be misused and abused and don’t show any clear pain-killing benefit over shorter-acting medications. They advise doctors to consider starting their patients who need pain relief with short-acting opioids first, to better gauge whether these forms can provide enough pain relief.

For consumers, the report urges people taking opioids or acetaminophen to ask for and expect regular monitoring of their pain and other symptoms. If the pain isn’t going away, then continuing to take the medications isn’t going to help, and will only expose you to potentially harmful side effects.

TIME prescription drugs

The 5 Most-Prescribed Drugs in America

More Americans take prescription drugs than ever before, and the latest government report breaks down what we’re prescribed and why we’re so reliant on Rxs

In its annual snapshot of America’s health, government health officials this year highlight the growing use of prescription drugs. Between 2007 to 2010, nearly half of U.S. adults and a quarter of children under age 18 used at least one prescription drug in the past month.

About a third of adults take something – cholesterol-lowering drugs or blood pressure medications — to treat heart disease, and 10% rely on prescription-strength pain killers.

While most of these medications are life-saving, or life-enhancing, there are some worrisome trends. Despite a decline, doctors are still prescribing antibiotics to treat cold symptoms, even though these drugs aren’t effective against the viruses responsible for the fevers, sneezes and sniffles. Deaths from overdoses of pain killers more than tripled in the past decade, and uninsured adults were four times less likely to get their prescriptions filled than those with insurance. Here are top five prescribed drugs for adults from 2007-2010, by percentage of users:

Cardiovascular 17.7%

Cholesterol-lowering 10.7%

Antidepressants 10.6%

Analgesics 10.5%

Anti-acid reflux 9%

Source: Health, United States, 2013

TIME mental health

Bad News For Ivy Leaguers: ADHD Drugs Hurt Your Memory

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Cultura/Frank and Helena—Getty Images

Smart drugs used to boost performance in the short term have long term damage for the young brain, a new study says

Prescription drug abuse is rampant, and for a third of Americans, the first drug of any kind that they take—including illicit drugs—is an Rx that has not been prescribed to them. That’s not surprising when you consider how many students abuse ADHD drugs for performance. But new research shows that recreational use of smart drugs comes at a cost.

Researchers from the University of Delaware and Drexel University College of Medicine reviewed the latest research on the effects of medications like Ritalin and Proviigil on the juvenile brain and discovered smart drug use is certainly not benign. The new research published in the journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience shows that while a drug like Ritalin may offer a boost in mental performance, it’s a short-term crutch that can actually adversely impact the brain’s plasticity, interfering with people’s ability to plan ahead, switch between tasks and be overall flexible in their behaviors.

For instance, the researchers looked at one of the most popular smart drugs on the market: Methylphenidate (otherwise known as Ritalin and Concerta). The drug is meant to treat ADHD, and about 1.3 million U.S. teens have reportedly used the drug without a prescription in the last month. Rat studies have shown that young brains are very sensitive to methylphenidate and that even low doses can harm nerve activity in the brain as well as memory and complex learning abilities. For a drug that’s supposed to offer better mental performance, the long term effects appear to do the opposite.

The study also took a look at the drug modafinil, also known as Proviigil which is used for sleep disorders like narcolepsy. The drug can help boost memory and is abused for various mental tasks, especially tasks related to numbers. But once again, the drug has very similar long-term effects on the young brain.

Finally, the researchers looked at a lesser-used class of drugs called ampakines, which are being studied by the military to increase alertness. They are known to improve memory and cognition, but for young people, unsupervised use can result in an overstimulated nervous system which could actually kill nerve cells.

“The desire for development of cognitive enhancing substances is unlikely to diminish with time; it may represent the next stage in evolution—man’s desire for self-improvement driving artificial enhancement of innate abilities,” the authors write.

And there’s no arguing with that. Other recent research looking at the use of smart drugs among Ivy League students found that many use ADHD drugs for academic performance, and they don’t think it constitutes as cheating. The study found that a third of the students in the study said using ADHD drugs for performance enhancement did not count as cheating, 41% said it was cheating, and 25% said they were not sure. People who used ADHD meds were also more likely to think it was a commonplace on campus.

The use of ADHD and other smart drugs has long been an ethical issue, and a growing one at that. Increasingly more people are being diagnosed with ADHD, even adults. The amount of adults taking ADHD drugs rose by over 50% between 2008 and 2012, according to a recent report. But now, emerging research shows the issue is also a biological one, and the early findings are not pretty.

The researchers of the latest study conclude that scientists and the medical community have a responsibility to very carefully evaluate and research each no drug to gain a greater understanding of drugs’ impact on the brain.

 

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