Abuse By Teens Rises Along With Prescriptions For ADHD Medication

Monday, August 24, 2009

Calls to poison control centers for teen victims of ADHD medication abuse were up 76 percent over eight years, an increase in line with the increased number of prescriptions for the drugs.

This trend is highlighted in research from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center that is being published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.

“Clearly, we are seeing a rising problem with the abuse of these medications,” says Jennifer Setlik, MD, lead author of the study and an Emergency Medicine physician at Cincinnati Children’s. “The findings suggest that more teens are abusing and misusing stimulant ADHD medications because they have access to those medications, not because a higher percentage of those treated have turned to abusing their medication.”

The study, using information from the American Association of Poison Control Center’s national data system, looked at calls involving 13 to 19-year-olds who were victims of prescription ADHD medication abuse. It showed calls increased 76 percent between 1998 and 2005, faster than calls for victims of substance abuse generally. Estimated prescriptions for teenagers and preteens increased 80 percent over the same time.

This study also shows that the severity of the cases is increasing.

“We’re seeing a disproportionate rise in the calls related to amphetamines,” said G. Randall Bond, MD, director of the Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children’s. “One thing we don’t know for sure is whether the increased calls for help are the result of simply more abuse or the escalating severity of consequences.”

The most frequently prescribed stimulant ADHD medications include mixed amphetamine salts and methylphenidate. While call-volume increases parallel sales increases, the percentage of calls related to amphetamines is rising faster than sales; the opposite is true of methylphenidate.

The researchers note that the increase in the total teen ADHD medication related calls to poison centers and the increase is ADHD prescriptions is not significantly different. However, what is disturbing is that calls for teen abuse of ADHD medications, up 76 percent, are rising faster than calls from victims of substance abuse generally, up 56 percent.

Next to marijuana, prescription medications are the most common drugs teenagers use to get high, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Teenagers are abusing prescription drugs because of their belief in their safety and for reasons beyond getting high: relief of pain and anxiety, aid with sleep, experimentation, help with concentration or to increase alertness.

Funding for the acquisition of the IMS Health National; Disease and Therapeutic Index prescription data was provided by the RADARS system, a part of the Denver Health and Hospital Authority.

About Cincinnati Children's

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center is one of 10 children's hospitals in the United States to make the Honor Roll in U.S. News and World Reports 2009-10 Americas Best Children's Hospitals issue. It is #1 ranked for digestive disorders and is also highly ranked for its expertise in respiratory diseases, cancer, neonatal care, heart care, neurosurgery, diabetes, orthopedics, kidney disorders and urology. One of the three largest children's hospitals in the U.S., Cincinnati Children's is affiliated with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health.

President Barack Obama in June 2009 cited Cincinnati Children's as an island of excellence in health care. For its achievements in transforming health care, Cincinnati Children's is one of six U.S. hospitals since 2002 to be awarded the American Hospital Association-McKesson Quest for Quality Prize for leadership and innovation in quality, safety and commitment to patient care. The hospital is a national and international referral center for complex cases. Additional information can be found at

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