ADHD Medication Misuse and Abuse
Eight ways to reduce the risk
In schools across the country, kids are asking their classmates who have ADHD to share their medications. The transactions come with serious consequences: The student with ADHD misses a needed dose, while the other student risks any number of side effects by taking a drug that, medically, is not needed. Most want the pills to increase their ability to study. Then there are the legal ramifications: Selling prescription drugs is a felony.
How can you prevent your child from getting involved? How can you tell if this is already happening? Laurie Dupar, RN, an AD/HD coach in Granite Bay, California, who works with kids and teens, shares her strategies for heading off a troubling trend:
1. Spell out the situation. Explain to your child why the drug has been prescribed, how it works, and what happens when a dose is missed and someone else uses it. “This helps kids to understand the medication and take responsibility,” says Dupar.
If you don’t feel comfortable, ask your pediatrician or an AD/HD coach to lead the conversation. Dupar also recommends including other family members in the discussion. Sometimes it’s a sibling who is pressuring for pills, she says.
2. Pick up patterns. Recall your child’s ADHD symptoms before medication. Distracted? Hyperactive? Getting poor grades? This “old” behavior will reappear if your child is missing doses on account of selling or sharing.
3. Tune in to testing times. ADHD medications become a hot commodity around midterms and finals. Be aware of your child’s academic schedule and know that the pressure to sell or share may be especially high at these times. Use test season as an opportunity to review the risks.
4. Periodically count pills. When you fill a new prescription, mark its start date on the bottle. Then, say, two weeks later, count how many pills are left; there should be enough for the rest of the 30 days.
5. Monitor spending habits. Meals out or new clothes and purchases that you didn’t buy may mean that your child is getting money from another source. If you notice a steady supply of fresh acquisitions, ask your child about it. “Vague answers or lack of eye contact may be signs that something’s up,” says Dupar.
6. Pitch old prescriptions. Sure, they’re expensive, and with all the medication adjustments, you never know if you’ll need them again. However, you could end up with extra, unused medication that could get into the wrong hands. To dispose of medication safely, put it in a child-resistant container along with a small amount of water. When the drug has dissolved, add some flour, sawdust or cat litter, and put the cap back on the bottle. Place the bottle in a bag or another container to keep it from being identified in the trash. Don’t flush leftover medicine down the toilet. Some drugs can get into the water supply and harm living organisms.
7. Lock up medications. Store medications in a safe and secure place. The best place to store ADHD medication is in a locked cabinet, drawer or safe. It’s important to store medication carefully to prevent anyone other than your child from accessing it. However, keep a checklist or calendar marked with dates and times, to remind your child when he or she needs to take it.
8. Be vigilant—and vocal. Don’t be afraid to raise the subject of medication misuse and abuse. By voicing your concern, you show that not only do you realize the problem exists and that you’re watching, but also that you’re there to help.
1. Stanberry, K. (n.d.). AD/HD, stimulants, and substance abuse. Retrieved May 17, 2012 from: http://www.greatschools.org/special-education/LD-ADHD/stimulant-medications-substance-abuse-risk.gs?content=774
2. Dupar, L. (Personal communication, June 23, 2008).
3. Novak, S. P., Kroutil, L. A., Williams, R. L., & Van Brunt, D. L. (2007). The nonmedical use of prescription ADHD medications: results from a national Internet panel. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 2, 32.
4. Novak, S. (Personal communication, February 25, 2008).
5. Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion Control. (2001). Stimulant abuse by school age children: a guide for school officials. Retrieved May 17, 2012 from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=237192
6. Sherman, C. (n.d.). Stimulants: not quite an epidemic. ADDitude Magazine. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/1688.html