Around 14 per cent of American children and adolescents are taking ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall. The drugs are stimulants that have a paradoxical calming effect on hyperactive children—but they are also being abused or misused by the children or other children in the home.
Deliberate abuse accounted for half of all the cases among teenagers that were reported to poison centres, and medication errors—including overdose or taking the drugs too frequently—were responsible for most of the cases in children up to the age of 12.
Around a quarter of the cases were treated and allowed home, but 6 per cent, or 10,000 cases, needed special hospital care. Three children died.
The most common side effects were agitation and irritability, rapid heart rate, drowsiness and lethargy, high blood pressure and vomiting.
In the 14 years from January 2000, US poison control centres received around 156,000 calls relating to ADHD drugs; that works out at 29 calls a day or 200 calls every week, say researchers from the National Children's Hospital.
The latest figures have risen 61 per cent on the previous period, which is in line with the rise in ADHD prescriptions, the researchers say.