Medication Abuse and Diversion

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When properly prescribed and administered, medications approved for the treatment of ADHD have been shown to be highly safe and effective. Parents of children and teenagers who have been prescribed medication for the treatment of ADHD are rightly concerned about the appropriate use and possible abuse of these medications. This concern is shared by educators and others who are involved in children’s daily lives. At the heart of this issue is ensuring that children who have been correctly diagnosed with ADHD and―in the judgment of their physicians and parents might benefit from ADHD medication―receive the full benefit of these medications to help manage the symptoms of ADHD and to help them lead full and successful lives.

When properly prescribed and administered, medications approved for the treatment of ADHD have been shown to be highly safe and effective. However, the medications used to treat ADHD, like any medication, can be abused.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines prescription drug abuse in the following way:

  • Taking a prescription medication that is not prescribed for you
  • Taking a prescription medication for reasons or in dosages other than prescribed

Adults who take prescription medications are responsible for taking them as prescribed. Children and adolescents, on the other hand, need the guidance of parents and other adults to help them understand the benefits of taking medication, along with the serious consequences of failing to take their medication properly.

Most ADHD medications are stimulants and categorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule II Medications. This means that any improper use of them―including providing them to someone without a prescription or taking them without a prescription―is a federal crime.

What is medication diversion

One of the potential ways in which prescribed medications may be abused is known as diversion. This refers to the situation in which a medication prescribed for one person ends up in the hands of another. This diversion from one person to another may come about through various circumstances. When it happens with children, for example, a child may be showing off at school and share his/her medication with others; a child may also be coerced into giving away or even selling his/her medication, etc.

College-age students face unique challenges concerning potential diversion. Some students without ADHD may seek out stimulant medications with the desire to enhance their academic performance or experiment with any possible physical reaction to taking the medications. This places an even greater burden on those students for whom the medication is prescribed to be diligent in ensuring that it is used properly.

This is a serious issue. The federal Government Accounting Office (GAO), in a report prepared for the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives, states that 8% of high school and middle school principals reported at least one instance of “diversion or abuse” of a medication used to treat ADHD. Most of these principals reported knowing of only a single incident.

What can you do to prevent diversion?

PARENTS: Protect your child; prevent diversion

  • Get the facts and avoid the myths associated with ADHD medication from your doctor.
  • Educate your child about his or her medication, the laws that govern its use, and how it can interact with other substances.
  • Speak with your child about respecting the purpose of the medication and using it only for its prescribed and intended purpose.
  • Stress the importance of reporting any side effects to you and your treating physician.
  • Consult with your child’s doctor and develop a solid medication plan that will work at home and school. Revisit that plan if and when your child goes away to college.
  • Make sure your child understands that he or she is taking what is considered a controlled substance that is illegal to all others.
  • Make sure that the school is aware of the medication that your child is taking, even if it is not dispensed by school medical personnel. This is especially important if your child is away at college.
  • Make sure your child understands the need to keep medication safeguarded inside its prescription container at all times.
  • Plan ahead, along with your child, for prescription renewals. Schedule II medications cannot be refilled verbally, or without a new prescription.
  • Provide your prescribing physician’s contact information to the school along with the prescription information itself in the event that any emergencies arise.

STUDENTS: What you need to know and do

  • Know that your ADHD meds are a controlled substance. Possession of these medications without a prescription is illegal.
  • Safeguard your medication from theft on campus. It is an important tool to management of your ADHD symptoms and it should be there when you need it.
  • A gift is a sale. In the eyes of the law, giving a controlled substance to someone who does not have the legal or medical authority to possess it is the same as selling it.
  • Don’t share your medication with others. Giving controlled substances to your friends is not only illegal, but can cause them harm if they are not being supervised by a doctor.
  • Follow your medication plan. Changing your plan without consulting your doctor can have medical consequences and can create a surplus of pills that can lead to trouble. If you don’t feel that you need to take your meds on the schedule prescribed, tell your doctor and modify the plan with his or her guidance.
  • Have local resources. If you are away at school, have your prescribing doctor coordinate with a doctor located near your school to address any issues that may come up or emergencies.

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