By Karen Weintraub
Like any other medication, drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can be abused.
A story in last Sunday’s New York Times showed the potentially tragic consequences of such abuse, and revealed some of the systemic factors that enabled it.
There is no blood test to diagnose ADHD – no biological marker that says “yes” you have the condition or “no” you don’t. Accurate diagnosis relies on the sophistication and experience of the doctor and the honesty of the patient.
The New York Times piece suggested that one or both of these factors broke down in the case of Richard Fee, a college graduate who committed suicide at age 24, two weeks after his last prescription for the stimulant Adderall expired.
Drugs like Adderall are far more available now than they used to be, because awareness of ADHD and prescriptions have increased markedly over the last decade, particularly among adults.
Most people tend to see ADHD as a condition of childhood. Research suggests that 5-10 percent of children meet the criteria for ADHD and are impaired by it, while roughly 4 percent of adults do.
Although there has long been discussion about whether ADHD medications are overused in children, this story raised concerns about the drugs in early adulthood, when drug abuse is most common. “We’ve got a lot more drugs out there in that age population,” said Dr. Glen Elliott, chief psychiatrist and medical director at the Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto. “The need to be more alert to possible diversion and misuse and abuse in this population has certainly increased.” Continue reading