May 2006 - Volume III - Issue V

ADHD - News Headlines Sometimes Deceiving
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ADHD-News headlines sometimes are deceiving

On Thursday May 25, 2006 in my local newspaper the Cedar Rapids,Iowa Gazette and probably in some of your local papers the ASSOCIATED PRESS ran an article which the Gazette ran on the lower portion of the front page with this headline: ADHD problems send thousands to hospitals- U.S. study estimates cases of overdosing, drug complications.

Below is a copy of the article itself and then a copy of a letter to the editor I wrote in response. I know that many of you do not take medications for ADHD or use diet or alternative therapies to deal with complications of ADHD and I fully support you. Some of us have had great response from stimulant medications as have I. So my hope in writing the editorial which has not yet been printed and may not be is to help all of us educate the ill informed that ADHD is actually under diagnosed and probably under treated in those already diagnosed.

I read recently a study in which it said that the average person prescribed stimulant medication in one month doses gets their prescriptions refilled on average of less than twice a year. This does not sound like the medication is being taken as prescribed and in addition the allegations of addiction to the medicines would seem very misguided.

The article

ADHD problems send thousands to hospitals - U.S. study estimates cases of overdosing, drug complications.

Associated Press

Accidental overdoses and complications from drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder likely send thousands of children and adults to emergency rooms, according to the first national estimates of the problem.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated problems with the stimulant drugs drive 3,075 people to Emergency Rooms each year. Nearly two-thirds -overdosing and accidental use- could be prevented by parents locking the pills away, the researchers say.

Other patients had side effects, such as chest pain, stroke, high blood pressure and fast heart rate.

Concerns over those effects have led some doctors to urge the Food and Drug Administration to require its most serious warnings on package inserts for drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall. Yet even doctors advising the FDA don't agree on whether that's warranted.

An estimated 3.3 million Americans who are 19 or younger and nearly 1.5 million ages 20 and older are taking ADHD medications.

Twenty-five deaths linked to ADHD drugs, 19 involving children, were reported to the FDA from 1999 through 2003. Fifty-four other cases of serious heart problems, including heart attacks and strokes, also were reported.

Still there hasn't been a clear estimate of the scope of the side effects. The CDC report, while not a rigorous scientific study, attempts to provide that by using a new hospital surveillance network. Extrapolating to all U.S. hospitals, the researchers estimated the 3,075 emergency room visits a year.

The following is my letter to the editor of the Gazette:

Dear Editor

On Thursday May 25, 2006 in the lower section of page one was an ASSOCIATED PRESS article proclaiming "ADHD PROBLEMS SEND THOUSANDS TO HOSPITALS" In the article it mentions that an estimated 3.3 million Americans 19 and under and an additional 1.5 million Americans aged 20 and over are on ADHD medications. That is a total of 4.8 million persons. Since ADHD is believed to be at 7-8% of the population we can surmise that ADHD is still under diagnosed or if diagnosed being untreated or treated without prescription medication.

My concern is the familiar, what I consider to be misleading,sensational headlines. If you take a look at the numbers in the article you find that 3,075 Emergency Room visits occurred last year related to overdosing or accidental use or abuse of the stimulant medications used to treat ADHD. The article mentioned that 25 deaths were attributed to ADHD drugs, 19 involving children from 1999 to 2003, that's about 5 a year. Fifty Four other cases involved serious heart problems, including heart attacks and strokes.

A closer more balanced reading of the article would have resulted in the following facts which I am sure if compared to other medications for other medical conditions would score favorably for the use of stimulant medications for those with ADHD.

If 4.8 million people in the United States are currently taking ADHD medications and only 3,075 people went to the Emergency Room for problems, that comes to a percentage of
.00064 , hardly a number deserving such a prominent headline of " sending thousands to the hospital" even if that is true. In addition by nature of the disorder the fact that someone might accidentally forget they had taken their medication and take it again would not be surprising. As a adult who has been on Ritalin for 10 years I have caught myself on a couple of occasions having to check my medication to see if I had taken it or not. In addition some of the 3,075 emergency rooms could have been repeat visits by the same persons. I am sure there are those who abuse their stimulant medications but the numbers presented in this article don't even bear out this to be a MAJOR problem. The FDA considering "black boxing" ADHD medication with its most serious warning would be detrimental to millions of Americans who are currently benefiting greatly from the use of these medications.

If the U.S. population is supposed to be around 280 million and 7-8%of them have ADHD then around 20 million people are involved and many of them do not know it. Most believe that ADHD is being over diagnosed but if you investigate the facts it shows that ADHD has in fact been under diagnosed and so we are going to see more people being prescribed medication and obtaining helpful results in doing so. I do not like the idea I have to take medication for ADHD and don't know anyone that does. We take the medication because it works and improves our quality of life. If ADHD medication were "addictive" you would not find the fact that most people who take medication for it, forget to take there medications from time to time, some quite frequently, and almost everyone I talk to has medication left over at the end of each month. If it were addictive we would be taking medication more than prescribed and be asking our doctors for new written prescriptions (which are required---no refills) sooner than the time our prescriptions run out.

In conclusion I would just ask that newspaper and other media try and get a balanced view of any stories on ADHD medication to avoid what I consider to be misleading headlines that perpetuate these common misconceptions of ADHD which cause most of us to hide the fact that we have it.

Patrick J. Hurley
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Hopefully we can get better, less sensational headlines in the future. Let me know if you have any comments.
Talk to you next month

Patrick Hurley

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Author's Bio: 

17 years Johnson County Sheriffs Department (Lieutenant) 5 years probation/parole officer co-author "ADHD and the Criminal Justice System