Columbus, OH—Calls to poison control centers in the United States about misuse and abuse of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications by young people are increasing, a new study reports.

The research, conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, documented more than 156,000 calls to U.S. Poison Control Centers related to exposures among children and adolescents aged 19 years and younger from January 2000 through December 2014.

The study, published online by the journal Pediatrics, says that translates to an average of 200 calls per week or 29 calls each day.

Although the rates fluctuated over the study period, the number of calls about ADHD medication by children and adolescents jumped 61%; that tracked closely with an increase in ADHD diagnoses and medication prescriptions nationally, study authors point out.

“Pediatric exposures to ADHD medications are an increasing problem in the US, affecting children of all ages,” explained senior author Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “We need to do more to prevent these exposures.”

Methylphenidate and amphetamine medications each accounted for about 45% of exposures, according to the report.

Most of the calls, 76%, involved youths aged 12 years and younger and appeared to be related to exploratory behavior common in those under age 6, such as accessing improperly stored medications. Adverse reactions or fear of adverse reactions leading to calls in the middle age group, 6 to 12 years, tended to be linked to therapeutic errors, such as taking or being given too much medication, taking a dose too soon after the previous dose, or taking the wrong medicine.

Yet among teenagers, about half of reported exposures were intentional abuse/misuse or suspected suicide attempts, study authors emphasize, and, as a result, put those users at risk for more serious outcomes.

“In young children, it is exploratory behavior and access to the medication bottle, while in school age children it is usually the busy family schedule and a double-dosing medication error,” described coauthor Henry A. Spiller, MS, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “In adolescents it tends to be an intentional exposure. The strategies to prevent these events change as the child gets older, but the risks of a problem remain.”

The majority of those exposed, 60.4%, did not receive any treatment in a healthcare facility. Yet 6.2% were admitted to the hospital, and three of the young people died.

Only slightly more than one-fourth of the callers reported symptoms, with the most common clinical effects being agitation/irritability (11%), rapid heart rate (10%), drowsiness/lethargy (3%), high blood pressure (3%), and vomiting (2%), the study reports.