Alarming spike in ADHD medication errors: One drug’s role under scrutiny

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adhd-medication-errors(NaturalHealth365) How’s this for a jaw-dropping statistic: research from the past decade suggests that medical error is responsible for more than a quarter million deaths in the United States each year.  This makes medical error the third leading cause of death – and that data came from before the absolute mess that was the pandemic!

But aside from death, many Americans are being temporarily or permanently harmed as a result of medical errors, as well.  Just consider the results of a new study on medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Read on to learn more about this study and learn about some signs and symptoms of ADHD, which is becoming more and more rampant among our nation’s youth.

300 percent INCREASE in poison control calls for errors related to ADHD medications over last two decades, study finds

The study in question can be found in the latest volume of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The objective of the study was to investigate the trends in out-of-hospital calls made to poison control centers for ADHD medication-related therapeutic errors among children and youths under 20 years old.

ADHD, the study co-authors note, is one of “the most common pediatric neurodevelopmental disorders and pharmacotherapy is a first-line treatment.” About 5 out of 100 American kids (3.3. million children) are currently prescribed medication for ADHD!

Using data from the National Poison Data Center and the U.S. Census Bureau, the authors found that between 2000 and 2021, the incidence of “pediatric out-of-hospital therapeutic errors related to ADHD medications increased by almost 300 percent” (emphasis ours).

The majority of those calls (about 83 percent) did not escalate to children needing treatment in a health care facility – but some kids weren’t so lucky.  The study authors noted that “2.3% [of affected individuals] were admitted, and 4.2% had a serious medical outcome.” The authors defined serious medical outcomes as moderate or major effects that were more pronounced, prolonged, or systemic than minor effects with potentially life-threatening symptoms that could result in significant disability or disfigurement.  (Fortunately, no deaths were reported.)

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The authors note that most of these errors were attributable to issues such as “inadvertently took or given medication twice” or “inadvertently took or given someone else’s medication.” They also hypothesize that the overall rise in reported medication errors could be explained by the rising rates of ADHD diagnosis and subsequent rise in prescriptions for these medications.

However, the authors also hint that the sharp uptick in ADHD medication errors could also partly be due to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of an ADHD drug called guanfacine hydrochloride (brand name Tenex).  “The marked increase in guanfacine-related therapeutic errors observed in our study beginning in 2009 coincides with its FDA approval for ADHD treatment,” the authors state, adding that “the increases in serious medical outcomes and healthcare facility admissions associated with ADHD medication-related therapeutic errors starting in 2009 were driven by guanfacine-related events.”

In its package insert made available by the FDA, guanfacine has been linked to “spontaneous postmarketing reports of mania and aggressive behavioral changes in pediatric patients with [ADHD].” Other reported adverse effects include dry mouth, sedation (somnolence), weakness (asthenia), dizziness, constipation, heart palpitations, and impotence.

The brand name Tenex is no longer available in the United States, and according to the Federal Register, it is currently listed on the “Discontinued Drug Product List,” although it was reportedly “not withdrawn from sale for reasons of safety or effectiveness.” Guanfacine is still available for the treatment of ADHD in kids and is sold in a different formulation under the brand name Intuniv.

Here are some signs and symptoms of ADHD to look out for

Nearly 10 percent of U.S. children had a diagnosis of ADHD in 2019, according to the study featured above.  And while there are many possible causes (along with many possible treatments, including non-pharmacological options), it’s worth your while to be aware of some of the potential symptoms.

According to the CDC, here are some basic signs and symptoms in kids with ADHD:

  • Frequent daydreaming
  • Frequently losing or forgetting things
  • Frequent squirming or fidgeting
  • Talking too much
  • Making careless mistakes or taking unnecessary risks
  • Having a hard time resisting temptation
  • Having trouble taking turns or being patient
  • Having trouble getting along with others

Now, do we believe that sticking pills down a child’s throat simply to make them sit still and behave better should really be the “first line” of treatment?  Certainly not.  Nor do we believe that parents deciding to give their children prescription medication should be shamed.  As with all medical decisions, we believe these are personal and private – but parents should be fully informed about the risks, benefits, and alternatives to make the right decision for their children.

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