Report Probes Overdose Deaths Among Teens on ADHD Medication
Nearly 40% of youths who had died of an overdose on stimulant medication had received a prescription for the psychostimulant within the preceding six months, according to a new study.
March 16, 2022
More than a quarter of teens who overdosed on medications used to treat anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had received a recent medical prescription for benzodiazepines or psychostimulants, according to a new study published in Pediatrics. 1
For the study, researchers studied data from the commercial claims database on privately insured youth aged 15 to 24 who overdosed on benzodiazepines or stimulants in emergency rooms between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2018. Researchers then compared the data with prescription records to determine which patients had a doctor’s prescription for the medication. Benzodiazepines and stimulants are commonly prescribed ADHD medications.
Findings show that, among those who overdosed on benzodiazepines (2,987 youth), 29% had a prescription for the drug in the previous month before overdosing, and 42% obtained a prescription six months prior. Twenty-five percent received a prescription for stimulants one month before overdosing (971 youth), and 39% received a doctor-written prescription six months earlier.
The researchers also found that youths who had intentionally overdosed were more likely to have recent medication prescriptions than were youth who had accidentally overdosed. Further, more than half of benzodiazepine overdoses (56%) were intentional compared with 40% of stimulant overdoses.
“These findings highlight the need for physicians to assess youth for self-injury risk who are prescribed benzodiazepines and stimulants, and the need for varying efforts to prevent intentional and unintentional overdoses,” said Greta Bushnell, Ph.D., MSPH, a co-author of the study. 2
Research findings were limited by the inability to distinguish between amphetamine overdoses related to prescribed agents vs. illicit substances. Also, the study does not account for youth overdoses that did not take place in a hospital or emergency department or when medication was not recorded.
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1Bushnell, G., Samples, H., Gerhard, T., Calello, D.P., Olfson, M. (2022). Benzodiazepine and Stimulant Prescriptions Before Overdose in Youth. Pediatrics, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2021-055226
2Swenarton, N. (2022). Teens and young adults overdosing on drugs for common mental health issues. News release. Rutgers University. https://www.rutgers.edu/news/teens-and-young-adults-overdosing-drugs-common-mental-health-issues