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ADHD Drug Overdoses
A terrifying reality is sweeping the youth of our nation with the abuse of the medications designed to improve their lives. A recent study has noted a significant increase in hospitalizations and overdoses related to ADHD medications. Data from 2000-2014 was analyzed by researchers from U.S. poison control centers. More than 156,000 cases during that time frame were reported related to ADHD drug exposure. Although exposures to treatments can be deadly if abused or misused these exposures decreased slightly from 2011-2014. The rate of incidents from 2000-2011 swelled nearly 72% (Mukherjee 2018 para 2). Almost half (42%) of these incidents were related to simple medication error. Although suicide attempts and medication abuse accounted for over half the exposures for teenagers 13-19 years of age.
What is the cause of the increase? Some researchers theorize. “The increasing number and rate of reported ADHD medication exposures during the study period is consistent with increasing trends in ADHD diagnosis and medication prescribing. Exposures associated with suspected suicide or medication abuse and/or misuse among adolescents are of particular concern,” wrote the study authors.
Overdoses and side effects of ADHD drugs account for hospitalizing 3,100 Americans annually, children accounting for 80% of them. The CDC reported 60% of the overdoses were accidental and if parents had kept the medications locked in child proof case they were also preventable. A CDC epidemiologist Dr. Adam L. Cohen reported the study was done to figure out “adverse events linked to the widely prescribed drugs, especially serious heart problems that have led to calls for the Food and Drug Administration to require its most serious “black-box” warnings on the stimulants (para 4)”
Researchers found in most cases with children under 12 got their hands on ADHD medication such as Ritalin or Adderall, or a double-dose of their prescription was given by mistake. According to the report 18% of the incidents were made due to a teenager intentionally abusing the medications or attempting suicide. A fair amount of calls to the poison control center were made by parents worried after their child was exposed to ADHD drugs. Even though the child was not ill or actually sick. “So an exposure to a medication does not necessarily mean there’s been a poisoning,” said senior researcher Dr. Gary Smith.
According to data from the Texas Poison Control Network, a total of 18,214 exposures to ADHD medications in patients under age 19 years old were reported from 2000 to 2017. Overall, the numbers increase in 2004 and peaked in 2011, leading to a rise of 115% from 2000 to 2011. The increase was more significant than the 7% increase from 2000-2011 seen nationally and matches the disproportionate increase in prescribing seen in Texas over this period. The most common age range affected was under 12 years old and accounted for a total of 76% of the exposures. Effects were more most commonly reported in patients age 13-19 years old. It is not a surprising finding due to toxicity being more likely to be exposures and they also align with the paradigm that exposures in this age group were most likely intentional in nature. The TPCN summarized their study as “this analysis reported trends in ADHD medication exposure in Texas and compared exposures to national trends. ADHD medication exposures were most commonly seen in the younger age groups, encompassing children 0-12 years, and exposures were overall more frequently accidental (p.5)”
Research has documented the rampant abuse of ADHD medications in the high school and college age group. “In an attempt to improve performance in athletics and academics these medications are used, often times without a prescription. Students in this age group take ADHD medications in large amounts recreationally, students often combined these medications with other controlled substances such as alcohol, cocaine, or methamphetamine (Soloway 2011).” Rose Ann Gould Soloway, an RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita Clinical Toxicologist performed a study that found “poisonings from such combinations can cause multiple physiological effects such as high body temperature, seizures, heart attack, stroke, and death. Parents and health care providers must teach that prescription drugs for ADHD cannot be shared safely or legally. Medical consequences can be catastrophic and legal consequences can be severe, as well (para 19)”.
It is obvious the parents and patients that are taking medications for ADHD need to be well informed about the consequences of abusing and overdosing on prescription medications. When prescription medication is taken with other controlled substances the physical effects can be dangerous, especially if the patients already has preexisting medical problems. Everyone from the doctors providing prescriptions the pharmacists and the parents of children taking ADHD medications need to be educated on the dangers of using any drug recreationally.
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Hargrove, K. L., Layton, G. M., & Varney, S. M. (2018). ADHD Medication Exposures
Reported to Texas
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