A Prescription for Bullying

Kids on ADHD meds more likely to be targeted

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The University of Michigan study found that the risk doubled in middle-school and high-school kids who had a prescription for stimulants. Kids who sold or who gave away their medications were at four-and-a-half times the risk for bullying.

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“This is just the first step in research to see if there’s something there,” Quyen Epstein-Ngo, the study’s lead author, told LifeZette. “What we found is there appears to be something there, so the next question is, who and how?”

“It is about having conversations with your child about who they’re telling.”

The study is believed to be the first to look at how stimulant medications may affect relationships with other school-aged children. It appears bullying is more likely to happen when other kids are aware the child is taking stimulant medication.

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Epstein-Ngo and her colleagues surveyed close to 5,000 students over four years. About 15 percent were diagnosed with ADHD; about 4 percent had been prescribed stimulants within the past year. Of the children who took ADHD medication, 20 percent reported being approached to sell or share their medications, and about half of them did.

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There may be one unwanted side effect of this study. It has the potential to scare parents who have put their children on medication or who are considering meds for them.

“We are really trying to emphasize that the purpose of this study is not to deter families from medicating their children,” Ngo, a licensed clinical psychologist, told LifeZette. “I think it is about having conversations with your child about who they’re telling (about their medication).”

Ngo-Epstein said there could be a lot of different reasons why the bullying is happening. Kids with ADHD could be taking bigger risks and putting themselves in situations where they are more likely to be bullied.

“Or it may be that they’re giving up their medication voluntarily to try to improve peer relationships or raise their popularity or help out a friend,” she said.

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The reason that could happen is pretty clear to Jennie Friedman, a certified ADHD coach from Long Island, New York, and author of the book “ADHD: A Different Hard Drive?”

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“Imagine when you were a kid and someone wanted your chips at lunch and you wanted your chips at lunch, but you were like ‘wow, if you like me more, you can have them,’” Friedman told LifeZette.

Friedman said she’s seen what a difference stimulant medication can make to people with ADHD. Any study that indicates meds may harm social relationships is worrisome, she said.

Friedman believes it’s important for parents of kids with ADHD to stay on top of what’s happening at school.

“Give them a strategy, give them a go-to phrase, even if it’s something like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, my mom and dad have the meds locked up. I don’t even have access to them,’” Friedman told LifeZette.

Researchers said the study should serve as a warning to all parents because of the potential for abuse of stimulant medications in kids who are not diagnosed with the disorder.

Epstein-Ngo said other research has shown that teenagers without ADHD want access to the drugs because they think they will get them high or help them perform better on tests. She also said they’re taking them in combination with alcohol and other drugs to enhance the highs.

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“There can be pretty serious consequences with drug interactions,” Epstein-Ngo said. “It’s a pretty important conversation to have with adolescents.”

U-M researchers said the biggest takeaway from their study is to have compassion for kids with ADHD.

“With the proper support and treatment, they can overcome this,” Epstein-Ngo said.

The study appears in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology and was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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