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Report Finds an Increase in ADHD Medication Overdoses and Misuse in Children

ADHD medication mishaps — both intentional and unintentional — have increased dramatically in recent years for children under the age of 19, a new report finds.




May 24, 2018

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 150,000 calls were placed to poison control centers to report dangerous exposure by children under the age of 19 to the medications used to treat ADHD, according to a report published this week in Pediatrics1. That translates to more than 200 calls a week — or 29 calls a day.

Most of the calls — 82 percent — were reporting unintentional drug exposure, the report found: a child without ADHD (usually younger than six) getting into an unsecured medication bottle, for instance, or a child accidentally taking a follow-up dose too soon. The rest of the calls were reporting children, generally older ones, purposely taking more medication than had been prescribed to them. Some of these calls were related to attempted suicides, the report found; others were due to drug abuse.

Most of the calls were about boys, and the vast majority (90 percent) were related to stimulant medications like Ritalin, Adderall, or Concerta. The calls rose most dramatically between 2000 and 2011, then dipped slightly from 2011 to 2014. Though just 6.2 percent of the calls resulted in the child being admitted to the hospital, there were three deaths linked to improper stimulant medication use.

The increased rate of overdoses is likely tied to the increased prescription rate for ADHD medications, the authors said. “The increasing number and rate of reported ADHD medication exposures during the study period is consistent with the increasing trends in ADHD diagnosis and medication prescribing,” said lead investigator Gary Smith, M.D., of Nationwide Children’s Hospital of Columbus, Ohio.

“Exposures associated with suspected suicide or medication abuse and misuse among adolescents is a particular concern, especially because these result more commonly in serious medical outcomes,” he added.

While the data is alarming — and emphasizes the need for parents to properly secure medication and educate their children on the dangers of misuse — it should be balanced with the concrete benefit these medications have for many with ADHD, said Jennifer Ashton, M.D., who serves as the Chief Medical Correspondent for Good Morning America.

“This is a class of medications that is first-line FDA-approved to treating kids and teens with ADHD,” she said on a recent episode of the program. “They are stimulants, so they increase activation in the brain. But like any medication, they have…side effects and they are associated with an increased risk of dependence and/or abuse.”


1 Smith, Gary, et al. “Pediatric ADHD Medication Exposures Reported to US Poison Control Centers.” Pediatrics, 21 May 2018.

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  1. Just curious, how many from the older teens were due to an unsuccessfull attempt to adjust their dosage, due to the fact that the FDA and inflammatory articles have doctors afraid to write a prescription that is truly needed. One day my doctor asked which hours of the day do you really need your medication? I should have replied, which hours of the day do you really need your glasses? Can’t you just squint the rest of the time?

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