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Why ADHD Drug Overdoses Are Rising Among U.S. Children

Why ADHD Drug Overdoses Are Rising Among U.S. Children

May 23, 2018


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The opioid crisis ravaging America has understandably become the biggest public health story of the past few years. But the specter of potential overmedication, and the consequences thereof, isn’t limited to painkillers—as suggested by a new study noting a significant increase in hospitalizations and overdoses related to ADHD medications.

Researchers examined data from U.S. poison control centers between 2000 and 2014. During this timeframe, there were more than 156,000 reported cases related to ADHD, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, drug exposure (such as to popular brands like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse). And while exposures to the treatments, which can be deadly if misused or abused, dropped slightly between 2011 and 2014, the rate of incidents ballooned nearly 72% from 2000 to 2011.

Admittedly, many of these exposures (nearly 42%) were attributable to simple medication error (although that in and of itself is also concerning from a public safety perspective). But suicide attempts and abuse of ADHD drugs accounted for more than half of the exposures for teenagers aged 13 to 19, according to the study, and one in four of all exposures involved children 12 years old and younger. More than 9,300 of these incidents required medical treatment and several children died.

So what’s driving this increase? The researchers have some theories.

“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.

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