New Study Suggests Teen Abuse of Prescription Stimulant ADHD Medication is a Rising Problem

Sunday, March 04, 2007

CINCINNATI -- A new study by researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center has found what they term a significant rise in the national Drug and Poison Center calls about abuse of stimulant medications prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The study will be presented at 4:15 p.m. Eastern time Saturday, May 5, at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Toronto, Canada.

It is estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of American children suffer from some degree of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and the number of children being diagnosed and treated with drugs has risen over the course of recent years.

G. Randall Bond, MD, emergency room physician at Cincinnati Children's and medical director of the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center, said that the American Association of Poison Control Center's Toxic Exposure Surveillance System (TESS) database showed that calls about teens abusing prescription ADHD stimulant medication has sharply risen, by 76 percent.

According to the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration, a growing number of incidents of abuse have been associated with adolescents, young adults and college students who are using ADHD drugs for their stimulant effects. They are also being used for appetite suppression in many teenagers with eating disorders who have gotten the drugs from friends and among college students, and they are being used as a stimulant to help them stayed focused and awake when they have long nights of studying.

"Our study is a first look," explained Dr. Bond. "But since calls about ADHD abuse rose faster than calls about other types of substance abuse, this is clearly an area that needs more study." He noted that the increase in ADHD-related calls was out of proportion compared to poison center calls for suicide with acetaminophen and lithium.

Researchers queried the TESS database, which includes all calls to all US poison centers, from 1998-2005, and sought number of exposures, and related non-protected patient data for calls meeting the following criteria: ages 13-19 years; reason, abuse, substance, and prescription ADHD stimulant medication. The two groups of medication examined were methylphenidates and amphetamines / dextroamphetamines, which are the types of stimulant drugs that are used to treat ADHD. For trend comparison, the researchers sought data on the total number of exposure calls and specific exposure / substances.

The researchers discovered that calls about teen victims of prescription ADHD medication abuse rose faster than all calls about victims of substance abuse and calls about teen victims of substance abuse generally. For comparison, during the same period, the annual rate of total and teen exposures, total and teen acetaminophen suicidal exposures, and total chronic lithium toxicity were unchanged.

"The increase for these particular calls is out of proportion to other poison center calls, so we are left to think that there is a rise in the abuse of these drugs by teens," he said. "On the other hand, abuse itself may be up or increased calls may be due to the increasing severity reflecting the shift in the types of medication that ADHD sufferers take," Dr. Bond said. "We are hoping to use other effective means of data research to learn more about what these numbers denote, but as of now, they imply that there is an increase in the abuse of these types of ADHD stimulants," he said.

Contact Information

Danielle Lewis, 513-636-9473, danielle.lewis1@cchmc.org