The Grapevine

Rise In Accidental Or Unnecessary Exposure Of ADHD Drugs Among Children, Teenagers

A new study revealed more than 156,000 calls were made to United States Poison Control Centers regarding exposures to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications among children and adolescents from 2000 to 2014. The exposures referred to accidental or unnecessary ingestion, inhalation or absorption of the medications.

The study titled "Pediatric ADHD Medication Exposures Reported to US Poison Control Centers" was published in the journal Pediatrics on May 21.

Data gathered from the National Poison Data System Data were analyzed to examine pediatric ADHD medication exposures from 2000 to 2014.

"What we found is that, overall, during that 15 years, there was about a 60 percent increase in the number of individuals exposed and calls reported to poison control centers regarding these medications," said lead author Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital. 

ADHD is treated with a range of medications under brand names such as Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin. According to Healthline, stimulants that are commonly prescribed to patients operate by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This can help restore concentration, improve pathways in the brain, and decrease fatigue in ADHD patients.

But misuse of prescription stimulants can result in adverse effects like increased heart rate, paranoia, overdose, fever and muscle pain, hallucinations, etc.

The researchers observed a trend with each age group. A majority (76 percent) of the calls concerned children who were aged 12 or younger. But the oldest age group (aged 13-19 years) was more likely to see serious outcomes due to exposure.

Exposures in the 0-5 group were linked to exploratory behavior such as a curious child accessing medications which were not stored properly. Meanwhile, exposures among children aged 6-12 years were often associated with therapeutic errors, such as taking or being given too much medication, a dose too soon after the previous dose, or the wrong medicine. Nearly half of all exposures concerning teenagers aged 13-19 years were said to be an intentional abuse of the drug or a suspected suicide attempt.

Research has shown a dramatic rise in ADHD diagnoses in the U.S. over recent years. As a result, experts have emphasized a need to create better criteria for diagnosis (particularly with children) and also target the misuse of stimulant medications.

"As the diagnoses and treatment with medication of ADHD have increased in the U.S., these exposures have also increased, which means we really do need to pay more attention," Smith said, adding that different strategies may be required for different age groups.

While the findings showed the frequency of these exposures to increase by 71 percent between 2000 and 2011, it also found them to decrease by 6.2 percent between 2011 and 2014.

Smith explained how FDA warnings about the potential side effects of ADHD medications were released during the early 2000s. 

"But you would expect that to have affected numbers during the early 2000s. We saw it change later, and we don't know why. That would be a fascinating area for future research," he said.