Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—commonly known as ADHD—is a neurobiological development disorder that is generally characterized with hyperactivity and some attentional problems, with the behaviors typically occurring together and presenting themselves before the age of seven. The National Institutes of Health (NIMH) describes ADHD as involving difficulty staying focused, paying attention, and controlling behavior, and with hyper- or over-activity. Some physicians appear to be prescribing ADHD drugs, which are typically amphetamine based, to young adults with no prior diagnosis of ADHD, which has led to serious, dangerous injuries.
We previously wrote about a government report that revealed that more children are taking drugs for ADHD. In fact, from 2002 to 2010, the use of stimulants for ADHD increased by 800,000 prescriptions annually or 46 percent, according to researchers from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) writing in the journal, Pediatrics.
A recent The New York Times report outlined the tragic story of Richard Fee, 24, who was never diagnosed with ADHD but who was repeatedly given prescriptions for larger and larger doses of ADHD medication, Adderall. Despite signs that were apparent to his parents, Kathy and Rick, of his growing dependency on Adderall, his bizarre and increasingly aggressive behaviors, police involvement, and repeated attempts begging Richard’s physicians against prescribing the amphetamine-based drug, Richard continued to receive Adderall.
Richard was never tested for ADHD, yet was continually prescribed fast-acting Adderall, even receiving a three-month supply of prescriptions from his physician after Rick had begged the doctor to stop prescribing the drug and warning the doctor, “You’re going to kill him,” wrote the Times. The fast-acting version of the drug is more closely associated with addiction. Richard became violently delusional, spent one week in a psychiatric hospital, and hanged himself in a closet two weeks after his last 90-day Adderall prescription ran out. Before his death and before his Adderall addiction, said the Times, Richard was described as an athletic, friendly, college class president, and aspiring medical student.
According to the Times, some five million Americans take medication for ADHD. And, while Adderall can improve the lives of those legitimately diagnosed with ADHD, more students are taking the drug for its ability to fine-tune focus, a benefit for driven students using the medication as a study aid. But, these amphetamine-based, highly addictive ADHD medications are associated with significant psychological risks, a serious issue given the practice of some physicians to ignore established diagnostic protocols, renew prescriptions with little or no patient involvement, and neglect appropriate side effect monitoring, noted the Times.
In the case of Richard, a literate, articulate man who never bought the drug illicitly and who was able to secure his medications from physicians who appeared to ignore all of the guidelines for the dangerous drug in the face of an unrelenting addiction and ultimate psychiatric breakdown, the system clearly failed him.
Some 14 million monthly prescriptions were written for ADHD in 2011 for Americans ages 20-39, said the Times, noting that young adults represent the fastest growing demographic taking the drugs. In 2007, 5.6 million Americans were prescribed the medications, according to IMS Health, a data company. The rise can be attributed, in part, to the aging of ADHD-diagnosed children and increased knowledge of the drug and diagnosis; however, experts caution that knowledgeable college graduates like Richard, who are no longer under parental control, can obtain stimulant ADHD prescriptions legally, the Times pointed out.
We have previously written that at least one study revealed that stimulant medications used to treat ADHD could increase risks in pediatric patients for sudden cardiac death, yet the FDA opted not to change its recommendations on the way in which such drugs are prescribed. There have been worries that such stimulants could be risky in children with undiagnosed heart problems and it is not known how often cardiac events occur in children taking these drugs or if this potential side effect can occur in older patients taking amphetamine-based ADHD medications.