ED Visits Linked to ADHD Meds Double

Deborah Brauser

January 25, 2013

The number of visits to emergency departments (EDs) involving attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications has more than doubled during the past decade, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The report, which is based on findings from a 2011 survey study by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), showed that these overall total ED visits increased from 13,379 in 2005 to 31,244 just 5 years later.

"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 Pamela Hyde, JD, administrator with SAMHSA, in a release.

The SAMHSA/DAWN report was released January 24.

Adults Particularly Affected

The greatest rates of increase for these visits were found in adults older than 18 years. These included the following:

  • 6017 more visits during the 5-year period for those between the ages of 18 and 25 years (2131 visits in 2005 vs 8148 in 2010);

  • 4340 more visits for those between the ages of 26 and 34 years (1754 visits in 2005 vs 6094 in 2010); and

  • 5438 more visits for those older than 35 years (2519 visits in 2005 vs 7957 in 2010).

The rates did not change significantly for those who were younger than 18 years.

In addition, the total number of ED visits involving nonmedical use of ADHD medications almost tripled, with 5212 reported in 2005 and 15,585 reported in 2010. Also, 50% of all visits related to ADHD medications in 2010 were for nonmedical use, whereas 29% were because of treatment-related adverse events.

Of all ED visits involving ADHD meds in 2010, 25% involved 1 other drug, and 38% involved 2 or more additional drugs. A total of 45% of the patients who used another drug used pharmaceutical medications. Of these, 26% used antianxiety and insomnia medications, and 16% used narcotic pain relievers.

Illicit drugs were also used by 21% of the ADHD medication users, and alcohol was used by 19%.

Better Alerts Needed

Men accounted for significantly more visits than women in 2005 due to nonmedical use of ADHD meds (3770 vs 1439, respectively). Although this rate difference narrowed considerably between the sexes 5 years later, there were still significant increases for both groups (8650 for men vs 6932 for women).

"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," added Dr. Hyde.

SAMHSA announced that a major goal of its Strategic Prevention Partnerships for Success program is to address misuse and abuse of prescription drugs in individuals between the ages of 12 and 25 years.

"States throughout the nation are using the resources and information provided by this program to raise awareness in their communities about the potential risks...and what can be done to help prevent it," reports the organization.

The complete report, which was released January 24, 2013, is available on SAMSHA's Web site.