“Given the potential for the misuse of these medications … we need to more closely examine whether there should be standards in place limiting the marketing of stimulant medications directly to providers,” said Dr. Scott Hadland, the study’s lead author and an addiction specialist at the Grayken Center for Addiction at BMC.
The stimulants — such as Vyvanse, Quillivant and Mydayis — are often given to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Misuse of those drugs often starts during the teen years and young adults who have ADHD are at a higher risk of developing an addiction, the study found.
Prescription stimulant use in the United States doubled from 2006 to 2016, which marked the highest pharmaceutical spending for children compared to any other type of medication.
The number of ADHD diagnoses in children are increasing as well, with 6.1 million children diagnosed in the U.S. in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That jumped from 4.4 million in 2003.
The 989,789 physicians studied in industry data between 2014 and 2018 most often got meals from drug companies that were marketing the stimulants.
“Doctors should be aware that even something as seemingly benign as a meal from a drug company could be affecting the clinical decisions they make,” said Hadland.
During the study’s five-year period, there were more than 591,000 payments made to physicians, totaling more than $20 million. Pediatricians got the most marketing payments, according to the study.
Hadland said that while stimulants can offer many benefits for some patients, the increase in use in concerning.
“It is important for the physician workforce to avoid excessive and unnecessary stimulant prescribing,” said Hadland.
Hadland said capping the number of interactions physicians have with drug companies, or even avoiding the interaction altogether could help the situation.
According to a Massachusetts Department of Public Health guide for clinicians on stimulant use, proper screenings, monitoring and checks for drug-seeking habits in patients is recommended.
For parents with children taking stimulants, the guide recommends advising dosage and teaching kids to keep their stimulant use private from others as, “many youth taking stimulants report other children asking for or stealing their medication.”