February 9, 2022
A key aspect of ADHD is greater difficulty controlling urges, so it is no surprise that there is a strong association between ADHD and substance use disorders, and opioid addiction in particular. It's also known that stimulants are effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. That would suggest that ADHD patients being treated for opioid addiction should also be treated for ADHD.
How extensive is such complementary treatment? A Norwegian research team used national register data from the Norwegian Prescription Database to find out. They began by identifying all 9,235 individuals who were dispensed at least one opioid agonist prescription from 2015 through 2017.
Opioid agonists, such as methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone), while opioids have properties that prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings. They can do this precisely by substituting a less dangerous slow-acting opioid for a more dangerous rapid-acting one. They are also less addictive because they do not generate the intense highs of fast-acting opioids. That greatly reduces the risk of overdose, and risk of relapse to more hazardous opioid use, and promotes connections with the professional healthcare sector.
About 7,500 Norwegians are undergoing opioid agonist therapy at any given time. During the three-year study period, roughly three out of four were dispensed buprenorphine and the remainder methadone.
Although somewhere around one in five patients on opioid agonist therapy have ADHD (estimates range from11 to 33%), the team found that less than one in twenty were also dispensed ADHD medication. In 2015, only 3.5 percent received ADHD medication, rising slightly to 4.6 percent in 2017. In 2017, 62 percent received methylphenidate, 42 percent received various amphetamines, and only five percent received non-stimulant atomoxetine (there was some overlap).
Patients on buprenorphine were 60 percent more likely to be dispensed ADHD medications than those on methadone.
The authors concluded, "Co-prescribing of CAS [centrally acting stimulant] and atomoxetine was low in the OAT [opioid agonist therapy] population in Norway, relative to the expected prevalence of ADHD in this patient group. Considering that up to a third of the OAT population is estimated to have ADHD, only 3.5 to 4.6% of patients received both ADHD medication and OAT opioids in Norway in the period from 2015 to 2017. Randomized-controlled trials evaluating ADHD medication in different doses are needed to improve the treatment of ADHD in the OAT population."
Vold, J.H., Aas, C., Skurtveit, S. et al. Dispensation of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications in patients receiving opioid agonist therapy; a national prospective cohort study in Norway from 2015 to 2017. BMC Psychiatry20, 119 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-020-02526-y.