ADHD Medications Abuse

In a recent study, researchers examining data from 2000 to 2014 found a 71% increase in calls to U.S. poison control centers between 2000 and 2011 to report misuse of ADHD medications. From 2011 to 2014, the calls declined slightly from 12,300 to 11,500, though it’s too soon to tell if the decline represents a turnaround in the problem.

According to the study authors, most cases were accidents, including incidents of young kids getting their hands on the medications, or kids mistakenly given an excessive dose of their prescription.

But according to a report in HealthDay, an alarming “18% of the calls were made after a teenager intentionally abused ADHD medication, or took it in a suspected suicide attempt.”

While not all incidents resulted in overdosing, 6% of the cases resulted in a hospital admission, and three deaths. In 28% of the cases, kids reported symptoms such as agitation, irritability, elevated heart rate, and drowsiness or lethargy, and were taken to medical centers and released a short time later.

Addressing the Issue

Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, pointed out that addressing the problem will require a multi-age approach. For example, with children 6 years old and younger, the problem arises when they stumble across pills that are left out or stored improperly. With kids 6 to 12, “they typically had a prescription for ADHD medication but were given an extra dose.”

Addressing those problems is straightforward, says Smith: “Keep all medication in child-proof containers up, away and out sight.” For those prescribed the medications, parents should “have a system (e.g. a smartphone app) that helps them remember whether their child has taken that day’s dose.”

But with teens, the problem is more challenging to address due to the intentional abuse of the medications. Educating teens about the dangers of taking someone else’s prescription, or sharing their prescription with friends is a good place to start. Experts also suggest that if parents are concerned that their child may be abusing medications, they should talk to their health-care provider.

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