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Medication Abuse and Diversion

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines prescription drug abuse this way:

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

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 concern 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 more 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. CHADD recognizes, however, that the medications used to treat ADHD can, like any medication, be abused in a variety of ways. 

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.  (Related informationFAQ: Is it illegal to carry ADHD medication?)

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.

Created 2010 / Updated 2012

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