An explosion of prescriptions distributed for ADHD medications has led to a 300 percent increase in the number of children putting themselves at risk by taking too much.
About one in 20 children age nineteen or younger (3.3 million people) has a prescription for a medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Researchers attributed the dramatic increase in poison control reports (from about 1,900 in 2000 to 7,600 in 2021) to the rising wave of new ADHD diagnoses and the subsequent rush of medications to treat the condition.
About 54 percent of reports to poison control centers occurred as a result of a child inadvertently taking more than one dose. However, about 13 percent of the reports focused on children who took the wrong medication or took someone else’s medication by accident.
There were no deaths due to these medication errors and the vast majority of children did not need to go to the hospital, although just over four percent had serious medical outcomes such as seizures, tremors and changes in their mental health.
The graph shows the annual rate of medication errors, such as taking the wrong dose or mistakenly taking the wrong medication, over two decades. Young men drove the most dramatic increases
Adderall prescriptions increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2020, just before the virus broke out across the United States, the drug accounted for 1.1 percent of prescriptions. By September 2022, the figure had more than doubled to 2.31 percent of all prescriptions issued.
About four percent of children who took medication by mistake or took double their normal dose suffered serious health effects, while just over two percent had to go to hospital.
About two-thirds of the children who took the wrong dose or medication were between six and 12 years old, and more than three-quarters were boys.
However, children under six years old were more likely to experience a poor outcome or be admitted to hospital.
Dr. Natalie Rine, co-author of the study and director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said: “The increase in the reported number of medication errors is consistent with the findings of other studies that report an increase in the diagnosis of ADHD. among American children over the past two decades, which is likely associated with an increase in the use of ADHD medications.
Pediatricians at National Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, collected information from the National Poison Data System (NPDS), which uses information from calls to poison control centers, as well as data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The most commonly reported poisonings occurred as a result of ADHD medications such as Adderall.
But 23 percent of children who mistakenly took a medication called guanfacine, used to treat high blood pressure and ADHD, or took the wrong dose of their own medication They were twice as likely to suffer serious health consequences and more than five times more likely to need a trip to the hospital.
Less than 15 percent of the children mistakenly took another medication called methylphenidate, used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
Fewer than 300 children who took methylphenidate had a serious medical outcome, compared with 1,510 who took an ADHD stimulant drug and 1,521 who took guanfacine.
ADHD medication prescription rates have increased steadily over the past two decades, but never as sharply as during the COVID pandemic.
Tracking from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the prescription rate increased just 1.4 percent annually between 2016 and 2020. But in just one year, between 2021 and 2022, that rate shot up almost a eight percent.
The increases in the years before the pandemic were largest among two age groups, 30 to 34 years old and 35 to 39 years old, age groups that are more likely to be parents of young children.
Nearly 93 percent of medication-taking errors occurred at home, while about 5.5 percent occurred at school and 1.6 percent occurred somewhere else, such as a public park or restaurant.
Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Injury Research and Policy Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said, “Because ADHD medication errors are preventable, more attention should be paid to patient and caregiver education and to developing better tracking and dispensing systems for child-resistant medications. ‘
Dr Smith, who led the research, added: “Another strategy may be a transition from pill bottles to unit-dose containers, such as blister packs, which can help remember if a medication has already been taken or administered.” .