Adult ADHD medication abuse rises

The number of emergency department visits involving attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) stimulant medications more than doubled between 2005 and 2010, according to a study released Jan. 24 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Those visits rose from 13,379 to 31,244 over the five-year span, reported SAMHSA, a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

The report, titled "Emergency Department Visits Involving Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Stimulant Medications," is based on findings from the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report. DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related morbidity and mortality through reports from a network of hospital across the nation. 

The greatest rates of increase in emergency department visits involving ADHD stimulant medications occurred among those aged 18 and older, while the level among those under 18 remained largely unchanged during this period, the report noted.

"Because ADHD stimulant medications have historically been prescribed for developmental disorders in children, nonmedical use among adolescents and young adults has received much attention," the DAWN report stated. "This report shows that emergency department visits for nonmedical 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."

The number of emergency department visits involving ADHD medications among those aged 18 to 25 rose from 2,131 in 2005 to 8,148 in 2010. Similarly the number of such visits increased from 1,754 to 6,094 among those aged 26 to 34, and from 2,519 to 7,957 among those over age 35 in the same period.

The number of emergency department visits involving ADHD medications that were used non-medically also nearly tripled during this period – from 5,212 in 2005 to 15,585 in 2010. In 2010 non-medical use of ADHD medications accounted for half of all emergency department visits involving ADHD medications.

The DAWN report said other pharmaceutical drugs were involved in nearly half (45 percent) of emergency department visits involving ADHD stimulant medications and about one fifth involved illicit drugs (21 percent) or alcohol (19 percent).

Differences in the rates of emergency room visits related to the non-medical use of ADHD medications also narrowed considerably between males and females during this period, according to the report. In 2005, 3,770 of these emergency department visits involved males compared to 1,439 involving females. By 2011, 8,650 of these visits involved men while 6,932 involved females.

“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,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “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.”

One of the goals of SAMHSA Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Success program is to address prescription drug misuse and abuse among persons aged 12 to 25.  States throughout the nation are using the resources and information provided by this program to raise awareness in their communities about on the potential risks of misusing prescription medicines and what can be done to help prevent it.

Click here to access the complete survey findings.

Photo attributed to FtWashGuy via Creative Commons license.