An explosion of prescriptions doled out for ADHD drugs has led to a 300 percent rise in children putting themselves at risk by taking too many.
Roughly one in 20 children nineteen years old and younger – 3.3 million people – have a prescription for a medication to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Researchers pegged the drastic increase in reports to poison control – from about 1,900 in 2000 to 7,600 in 2021 – on the growing wave of new ADHD diagnoses and the subsequent outpouring of drugs to treat the condition.
About 54 percent of reports to poison centers occurred as a result of a child inadvertently taking more than one dose. However, about 13 percent of reports centered on children who either 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 kids did not need to go to the hospital, though slightly more than 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 males drove the most drastic increases
Prescriptions for Adderall surged during the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2020, just before the virus erupted across America, the drug made up 1.1 percent of drugs prescribed. By September 2022, the figure had more than doubled to 2.31 percent of all prescriptions written
About four percent of children who mistakenly took medications or took twice their normal dose had serious health effects while slightly over two percent had to go to the hospital
About two-thirds of children who took the wrong dose or medication were six to 12 years old and more than three-quarters were male.
However, kids younger than six were more likely to experience a bad outcome or be admitted to a 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 reporting an increase in the diagnosis of ADHD among U.S. children during the past two decades, which is likely associated with an increase in the use of ADHD medications.’
Pediatricians at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio gathered information from the National Poison Data System (NPDS), which uses information from calls to poison control centers, as well as data from the US 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 meidcation were twice as likely to suffer serious health consequences and more than five times as likely to require a trip to the hospital.
Less than 15 percent of children mistakenly took another medication called methylphenidate, used to treat ADHD as well as narcolepsy.
Fewer than 300 children who took methylphenidate had a serious medical outcome, compared to 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 so sharply as during the COVID pandemic.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracking shows the prescription rate increased just 1.4 percent annually from 2016 to 2020. But in just a year’s time from 2021 to 2022, that rate shot up nearly eight percent.
The increases in the years leading up to the pandemic were greatest among two age groups, 30 to 34-year-olds and 35 to 39-year-olds, age groups that are most likely to be parents of young children.
Nearly 93 percent of errors in taking medication occurred at home, while about 5.5 percent occurred in school and 1.6 percent occurred in another location such as a public park or restaurant.
Dr Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital said: ‘Because ADHD medication errors are preventable, more attention should be given to patient and caregiver education and development of improved child-resistant medication dispensing and tracking systems.’
Dr Smith, who led the research, added: ‘Another strategy may be a transition from pill bottles to unit-dose packaging, like blister packs, which may aid in remembering whether a medication has already been taken or given.’