ADHD drug usage increases over 60%, study suggests

Exposure to common medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has increased by more than 60% in US children and adolescents, according to a new study. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at all calls to US poison control centers for unintentional or intentional exposure to ADHD medications between 2000 and 2014 among children and adolescents. The researchers found that the number of calls increased from 7,018 in 2000 to 11,486 in 2014 -- a 64% increase.

According to the study's authors, "exposure" refers to the unnecessary ingestion, inhalation or absorption of these medications. Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital and a leading author on the study said, "What we found is that, overall, during that 15 years, there was about a 60% increase in the number of individuals exposed and calls reported to poison control centers regarding these medications."

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurobehavioral condition characterized by an ongoing pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. ADHD is among the most common behavioral disorder among children or adolescents, according to Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins, who was not involved in the new study.

The researchers in the new study looked at exposure to four common medications used to treat ADHD: methylphenidate (e.g. Ritalin), amphetamine (e.g. Adderall), atomoxetine and modafinil. Approximately 46% of the exposures were due to methylphenidate and 45% to amphetamine. The medications are considered stimulants with overexposure symptoms including agitation, tremor, increased heart rate, confusion and seizures, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The researchers in the new study also compared exposure to ADHD medications among three age groups: 0 to 5 years, 6 to 12 years and 13 to 19 years. They found the reasons behind the exposures differed substantially among these groups. In the youngest group, the majority of cases were due to unintentional exposure from exploratory behaviors; for children between 6 and 12, most exposures were due to therapeutic errors or accidentally taking multiple pills; and among children 13 to 19, more than 50% were due to intentional overexposure.

"Unfortunately, just as with opioids, these medicines are far too accessible in bathrooms and bedrooms and kitchen cabinets all over the country," Alexander said. "There are increasing numbers of pharmacies and hospitals and health systems that are building take-back programs for individuals seeking to dispose of these medicines. So I think we'll see more of these in the coming years."

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