Original Research

Stimulant Medication Prescribing Practices Within a VA Health Care System

Setting clear expectations for patients and prescribers before and during prescription use and the development of a clinical practice protocol may improve patient misuse of stimulant medications.

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Dispensing of prescription stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate or amphetamine salts, has been expanding at a rapid rate over the past 2 decades. An astounding 58 million stimulant medications were prescribed in 2014.1,2 Adults now exceed youths in the proportion of prescribed stimulant medications.1,3

Off-label use of prescription stimulant medications, such as for performance enhancement, fatigue management, weight loss, medication-assisted therapy for stimulant use disorders, and adjunctive treatment for certain depressive disorders, is reported to be ≥ 40% of total stimulant use and is much more common in adults.1 A 2017 study assessing risk of amphetamine use disorder and mortality among veterans prescribed stimulant medications within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) reported off-label use in nearly 3 of every 5 incident users in 2012.4 Off-label use also is significantly more common when prescribed by nonpsychiatric physicians compared with that of psychiatrists.1

One study assessing stimulant prescribing from 2006 to 2009 found that nearly 60% of adults were prescribed stimulant medications by nonpsychiatrist physicians, and only 34% of those adults prescribed a stimulant by a nonpsychiatrist physician had a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).5 Findings from managed care plans covering years from 2000 to 2004 were similar, concluding that 30% of the adult patients who were prescribed methylphenidate had at least 1 medical claim with a diagnosis of ADHD.6 Of the approximately 16 million adults prescribed stimulant medications in 2017, > 5 million of them reported stimulant misuse.3 Much attention has been focused on misuse of stimulant medications by youths and young adults, but new information suggests that increased monitoring is needed among the US adult population. Per the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Academic Detailing Stimulant Dashboard, as of October 2018 the national average of veterans with a documented substance use disorder (SUD) who are also prescribed stimulant medications through the VHA exceeds 20%, < 50% have an annual urine drug screen (UDS), and > 10% are coprescribed opioids and benzodiazepines.The percentage of veterans prescribed stimulant medications in the presence of a SUD has increased over the past decade, with a reported 8.7% incidence in 2002 increasing to 14.3% in 2012.4

There are currently no protocols, prescribing restrictions, or required monitoring parameters in place for prescription stimulant use within the Lexington VA Health Care System (LVAHCS). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the prescribing practices at LVAHCS of stimulant medications and identify opportunities for improvement in the prescribing and monitoring of this drug class.


This study was a single-center quality improvement project evaluating the prescribing practices of stimulant medications within LVAHCS and exempt from institutional review board approval. Veterans were included in the study if they were prescribed amphetamine salts, dextroamphetamine, lisdexamphetamine, or methylphenidate between January 1, 2018 and June 30, 2018; however, the veterans’ entire stimulant use history was assessed. Exclusion criteria included duration of use of < 2 months or < 2 prescriptions filled during the study period. Data for veterans who met the prespecified inclusion and exclusion criteria were collected via chart review and Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio.


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