December 16, 2015
2 min read

Adolescents recently prescribed ADHD medication at greater risk for bullying

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Middle and high school students prescribed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medication reported more peer victimization compared with ADHD students who had never received medication and adolescents without ADHD, according to research in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

“Our results indicate that youth diagnosed with [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)] and prescribed stimulants in the past 12 months had higher odds of frequent peer victimization, even after controlling for demographics, and severity of ADHD, depression, anxiety, and conduct disorders,” Quyen M. Epstein-Ngo, PhD, research assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and colleagues wrote.

Dr. Epstein-Ngo

Quyen M. Epstein-Ngo

The researchers analyzed data from 4,965 students attending grades 7 through 12 at five public schools in the Midwest. Study participants received annual web-based surveys between 2009 and 2013, with the questions used to determine their ADHD status and the type and level of peer victimization each participant experienced. About 15% of respondents were diagnosed with ADHD, and 3.6% were assigned stimulants within the past 12 months.

Students prescribed ADHD medication within the past 12 months experienced more peer victimization than students without ADHD (adjusted OR = 1.79; 95% CI, 1-3.44), according to the researchers. Peer victimization, however, was similar among students with ADHD and recent medication and those with ADHD not prescribed medication in the past year. Moreover, the researchers found that students assigned ADHD medication at any point in their lives reported more peer victimization than students with ADHD who never received medication.

The researchers also said ADHD students who sold or shared their medications in the past 12 months were at more than four times the risk for victimization than students without ADHD (aOR = 4.66; 95% CI, 1.4-15.5).

“Whether youth are victimized by peers who want access to their prescription stimulants or youth are diverting their prescription stimulants as a component of other behavioral problems, diversion of stimulant medication may lead to treatment failure if youth do not take the medications prescribed for their ADHD symptoms,” Epstein-Ngo and colleagues wrote.

The researchers said these findings should not be used to discourage the administration of ADHD stimulant medications to children who need them.

“For some children stimulant medications are immensely helpful in getting through school,” Epstein-Ngo said in a press release. “This study doesn’t say, ‘Don’t give your child medication.’ It suggests that it’s really important to talk to your children about who they tell.” – by David Costill

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.