In the ER for ADHD Rx Misuse

ADHD stimulant medications sending more people to the emergency department

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make it hard to concentrate and to do a variety of daily tasks. While medications can help patients with ADHD, those same medications are frequently abused.

Stimulant medications for ADHD are often prescribed to children with the disorder. For this reason, there has been a lot of attention on the abuse of these medications by teens and young adults.

However, a recent report showed that abuse and misuse of ADHD medications is also a problem among adults.

As more and more adults are being treated for ADHD, these findings highlight the need for improved efforts to prevent abuse and misuse of ADHD medications among adults.

"Take your ADHD medications as prescribed by a doctor."

The study was conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA's Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Success program is designed to address prescription drug misuse and abuse among people between 12 and 25 years of age.

The report showed that the number of emergency department visits involving ADHD stimulant medications increased from 13,379 visits in 2005 to 31,244 visits in 2010.

According to the report, emergency department visits for abuse and misuse of ADHD medications more than doubled between 2005 and 2010. The largest increase in emergency department visits was found among those 18 years of age and older.

Surprisingly, rates of emergency department visits involving ADHD medication stayed about the same among those under the age of 18.

While the number of emergency department visits involving ADHD medications did not increase significantly for children under 18 years of age, increases were seen among multiple age groups over the age of 18. Among those aged 18 to 25, visits increased from 2,131 in 2005 to 8,148 in 2010. Visits increased from 1,754 to 6,094 among those aged 26 to 34, and from 2,519 to 7,957 among those aged 35 and older.

ADHD stimulant medications are not always taken to treat ADHD. The report also showed an increase in emergency department visits for non-medical use of ADHD medications from 5,212 visits in 2005 to 15,585 visits in 2010. Those visits involving adverse reactions (harmful side effects) rose from 5,085 visits to 9,181 visits.

Stimulant ADHD medications are often referred to as "uppers" because they tend to enhance awareness, wakefulness and movement. Non-medical use of these medications is the recreational use of these medications. That is, non-medical use is the use of these medications by people without a prescription or by those with a prescription but who take the medications for recreational reasons. 

Results also showed that rates of emergency department visits for non-medical use of ADHD medications differed between men and women. However, that difference became smaller in more recent years. In 2005, 3,770 of these visits involved men, while 1,439 involved women. By 2011, 8,650 of these visits involved men compared to 6,932 involving women.

"Because ADHD stimulant medications have historically been prescribed for developmental disorders in children, non-medical use among adolescents and young adults has received much attention," wrote the authors of the report. "This report shows that emergency department visits for non-medical use have not increased among children and adolescents, but they have increased among adults aged 18 or older. This suggests a need for increased attention toward efforts to prevent diversion and misuse among adults."

According to SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, "ADHD medications, when properly prescribed and used, can be of enormous benefit to those suffering from ADHD, but like any other medication they can pose serious risks – particularly when they are misused. 

"This study indicates that a better job has to be done alerting all segments of society – not just the young – that misuse of these medications is extremely dangerous."

The study was published January 24 by SAMHSA as part of The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Report.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 30, 2013
Last Updated:
February 6, 2013