The explosion in prescriptions for ADHD drugs has led to a 300 percent increase in children’s risk of overdosing.
About 20 to 3.3 million children age 19 and younger have a prescription for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
The researchers noted a sharp increase in reports of poisonings, from about 1,900 in 2000 to 7,600 in 2021, due to a rising tide of new ADHD diagnoses and the subsequent outflow of drugs to treat the condition.
About 54 percent of the reports sent to poison centers were caused by a child accidentally taking more than one dose. However, about 13 percent of reports focused on children who either took the wrong medication or accidentally took someone else’s medication.
There were no deaths from 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 consequences, such as seizures, convulsions, and mental health changes.
The graph shows the annual rate of medication errors, such as taking the wrong dose or taking the wrong medication, over two decades. The sharpest increase was recorded by young men
Adderall prescriptions have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2020, just before the virus outbreak in America, the drug accounted for 1.1 percent of prescription drugs. By September 2022, that figure had doubled to 2.31 percent of all prescriptions written.
About four percent of children who took medication by mistake or overdosed had serious health consequences, while just over two percent had to go to hospital.
Two-thirds of children who received the wrong dose or medication were between six and 12 years old, and more than three-quarters were male.
However, children younger than six were more likely to experience a poor outcome or be admitted to hospital.
Dr. Natalie Rhine, co-author of the study and director of the Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said: US children over the past two decades, which is likely related to the increase in the use of ADHD medications.
Pediatricians at 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 have occurred as a result of ADHD medications such as Adderall.
But 23 percent of children who mistakenly took a drug called guanfacine to treat high blood pressure and ADHD, or took the wrong dose of their own medicine.twice as likely to suffer serious health consequences and more than five times more likely to require hospital admission.
Less than 15 percent of the children mistakenly took another drug, methylphenidate, which is used to treat ADHD as well as narcolepsy.
Fewer than 300 children who took methylphenidate had a serious medical outcome, compared with 1,510 who took an ADHD stimulant and 1,521 who took guanfacine.
Prescription rates for ADHD drugs have risen steadily over the past two decades, but never as dramatically as during the COVID pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the prescription rate increased by just 1.4 percent annually from 2016 to 2020. But in just one year, 2021-2022, that figure has increased by almost eight percent.
In the years before the pandemic, the biggest increases were in two age groups: 30 to 34 and 35 to 39, who are most likely to be parents of young children.
Almost 93 percent of medication errors occurred at home, while about 5.5 percent occurred at school and 1.6 percent occurred elsewhere, 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 paid to patient and caregiver education and to the development of improved systems for dispensing and tracking medications that are resistant to children.
Dr Smith, who led the research, added: Another strategy may be to switch from pill bottles to unit-dose packaging, such as blister packaging, which can help remember whether a medication has already been taken or dispensed.
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