Attention Disorder Drugs: Few Incidents of Diversion or Abuse Identified By Schools

GAO-01-1011 Published: Sep 14, 2001. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 2001.
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Children diagnosed with attention deficit disorders are often treated with stimulant medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall. These drugs are controlled substances under federal law because of their high potential for abuse. Many of these stimulant drugs must be taken several times a day to be effective, so children need medication during the school day. Concern has arisen that the increasing use of these medications in school might provide additional opportunities for drug abuse. No data exists on the extent to which attention disorder drugs have been diverted or abused at school, or the extent to which state laws or regulations guide local school officials in safely administering these drugs. Middle and high school principals reported little diversion or abuse of attention disorder drugs. For the first seven to nine months of school year 2000-2001, about eight percent of principals in public middle and high schools reported that attention disorder drugs had been diverted or abused at their school. Most of the principals reported that school officials administer attention disorder medications, with about two percent of the school's students on average being administered attention disorder drugs on a typical day. Medications are given by nurses in about 60 percent of the schools, and by non-health professionals, such as secretaries, in most of the remaining schools. Medications are kept locked in almost all (96 percent) of the schools, according to the principals, and students are observed while taking their medications. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have either statutes, regulations, or mandatory policies addressing the administration of medication to students. State provisions require schools to obtain written parental authorization to administer medication, ensure that the medication is securely stored, and store prescription medication in the original pharmacy container.

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