A new study in the American Sociological Review finds that middle and high school students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely than students in poverty to “selectively use stimulants only during the academic year,” and are most likely to do so in states with the most stringent academic accountability.
Authors Marissa D. King of the Yale School of Management, Jennifer Jennings of New York University, and Jason M. Fletcher of the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied 4 million patients ages 20 and younger who filled stimulant prescriptions from 2007 to 2008 for conditions such as attention deficit disorder.
The study found that while elementary school students typically fill prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin year round, older students were more likely to do so during the school year than in summer—and even during the week than on the weekend.
Moreover, the wealthier teenagers—defined as those who used private insurance—were 36 percent more likely to fill a stimulant prescription during the school year than during the summer, while low-income students—those using public-health-insurance programs—were only 13 percent more likely to use stimulants in the academic year than in summer. Those gaps held even when high- and low-income students used the same doctor, and widened in states with high academic accountability.
A version of this article appeared in the October 29, 2014 edition of Education Week as Drugs and Accountability