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Adderall and Adderall XR (amphetamine mixtures)
Concerta (methylphenidate, extended release)
Dexedrine and Dexedrine Spansules (dextroamphetamine)
Focalin and Focalin XR (dexmethylphenidate,
Ritalin, Ritalin-SR, and Ritalin LA (methylphenidate,
The psychostimulants, more simply known as stimulants, are used primarily in treating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a condition characterized by daytime somnolence in whichthe patient periodically falls into a deep sleep during the day. Narcolepsy is a disorder of the sleep–wake con-trol mechanisms within the brain that interferes with both daytime wakefulness and nighttime sleep.
Other medications used in the treatment of ADHD are the so-called nonstimulants. This mixed group of
medications is unlike the stimulants, and there is not the concern of abuse and dependence with these medi-cations as with amphetamines and methylphenidate. The only nonstimulant approved by the U.S. Food andDrug Administration (FDA) for treatment of ADHD is Strattera (atomoxetine). The other nonstimulants, in-cluding Tenex (guanfacine), Catapres (clonidine), and Wellbutrin (bupropion), are not approved by the FDAfor treatment of ADHD, and they are prescribed “off-label.” The use of a medication for its approved indi-cations is called its labeled use.
In clinical practice, however, physicians often prescribe medications for unla-beled
(off-label) uses when published clinical studies, case reports, or their own clinical experiences support theefficacy and safety of those treatments.
For those who do not like to take pills, methylphenidate can be introduced into circulation through the
skin by a topical patch. The methylphenidate topical patch, called Daytrana, can be worn for up to 9 hours todeliver a controlled rate of methylphenidate through the skin. After absorption of the medication into circu-
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lation, there is no difference in the action of the medication than had it been taken orally. For more informa-tion on Daytrana, refer to the handout for this medication.
is a unique extended-release formulation of dextroamphetamine, or
-amphetamine. The extended release is accomplished through modification of the active molecule dextro-amphetamine to form lisdexamfetamine, which is inactive. After Vyvanse is taken, it is rapidly absorbed anddistributed to the liver, where it is converted back to the active stimulant, d
-amphetamine. The time to absorband convert lisdexamfetamine to dextroamphetamine essentially makes Vyvanse an extended-release formu-lation of d
-amphetamine. For more information on Vyvanse, refer to the handout for this medication.
In numerous clinical studies and decades of clinical experience, the stimulants have clearly demonstrated
improvement of outcome for children with ADHD. They increase children’s ability to concentrate, extendtheir attention span, and decrease hyperactivity. Adults with ADHD also benefit from therapy with stimulants.
Stimulants help adults concentrate and remain focused on their tasks, increase their attention span, and de-crease impulsivity and hyperactivity.
The nonstimulants are not as commonly used as the amphetamines and methylphenidate for ADHD. Ex-
cept for Strattera, the nonstimulants have not been widely studied for treatment of ADHD, and evidence oftheir effectiveness is, at best, based on limited clinical trials but mostly clinical experience.
Dosing of stimulants in adults is based on clinical presentation and individualized to the patient’s response andreported side effects. In children, dosing is also based on age and weight. The other consideration in dosingis selection of a formulation with the duration of action tailored to the needs of the patient. For example,Ritalin-SR, a long-acting methylphenidate, produces sustained release of medication for about 8 hours, whereasConcerta, another methylphenidate, provides immediate and delayed-release action for about 12 hours ofaction.
Ritalin is the most widely prescribed stimulant for ADHD, but Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) is equally
effective. Immediate-release Ritalin is short acting and begins to work in 30–60 minutes after administration,with duration of 2–5 hours. The advantage is that it works quickly, but the duration of action is short and requiresdosing two or three times a day. Similarly, Dexedrine is a short-acting stimulant with peak effects 1–2 hoursafter administration, and the effects last 2–5 hours.
Because multiple dosing may be difficult for patients, especially school-age children, Ritalin and Dexe-
drine come in long-acting preparations that provide 6–8 hours of benefit from a single morning dose. Thelong-acting preparations of Ritalin and Dexedrine provide flexible dosing options, but the formulations ofstimulants are made confusing by their different designations: for Ritalin, “SR” denotes sustained-release
and“LA” denotes long-acting;
for Metadate, “ER” denotes extended-release
and “CD” denotes controlled-delivery;
for Adderall, “XR” denotes extended-release;
and for Dexedrine, the “Spansule” is a trademark for a long-acting
Adderall is mixture of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, and Adderall XR is the extended-release
preparation of the mixture. Adderall provides about 5 hours of effect, whereas Adderall XR extends the dura-tion to 8–10 hours.
With recent advances in drug delivery systems, manufacturers have incorporated new technology in the
formulation of stimulants to provide a bimodal action from a single tablet or capsule. This bimodal deliverysystem can release 20%–50% of the medication immediately and the remainder in the 10–12 hours following.
For example, Concerta (methylphenidate) uses a system that provides immediate and extended delivery ofmedication. It releases about 22% of the medication within 1–2 hours and the remainder of the drug over 10–12 hours. Similarly, Adderall XR, Metadate CD, and Ritalin LA use this bimodal delivery system. The advan-tage of this preparation is that it provides immediate effect from a single morning dose and extended actioninto the evening, but by bedtime the effects of the medication wear off without affecting sleep. The differentpreparations of amphetamine and methylphenidate are summarized in the table on the next two pages.
Stimulants and Nonstimulants for ADHD
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*Off-label use for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Common Side Effects
The common side effects associated with stimulants are rapid heart rate, palpitations, restlessness, insomnia, drymouth, constipation, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and elevation of blood pressure. (See indi-vidual handouts for common side effects of nonstimulants.)
Adverse Reactions and Precautions
Stimulants, particularly the amphetamines, have a high potential for abuse. Individuals with a history of alco-hol and substance abuse may be at risk for abusing stimulants. Individuals who abuse stimulants develop tol-erance and psychological dependence that may result in addiction. With long-term abuse of stimulants andthe resulting sleepless nights, the individual may develop psychotic symptoms.
Stimulants may increase blood pressure. Individuals with a history of high blood pressure or heart disease
should be cautious about taking stimulants because these agents can exacerbate these conditions. Uncon-trolled high blood pressure can have serious consequences, including stroke and heart attacks. Patients takingstimulants should routinely check their blood pressure.
Individuals with a history of seizure disorder should be cautious while taking stimulants because these
agents can lower the seizure threshold.
Stimulants and Nonstimulants for ADHD
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In children and adolescents who are still in their growth period, stimulants can suppress linear growth.
Physicians commonly interrupt treatment, if possible, on weekends and holidays, when children are not inschool, for growth catch-up. Children and adolescents taking stimulants require close monitoring for growthsuppression and periodic measuring of their height. This effect is not a concern in the adult population.
Stimulants may make tics worse in individuals with a tic disorder (i.e., twitching of a muscle group, espe-
Stimulants should be avoided, or used with caution, by patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipo-
lar disorder. Stimulants are frequently abused in this population, and high doses of stimulants may trigger psy-chosis and mania.
Use in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Pregnancy Category C
The stimulants have not been tested in women to determine their safety in pregnancy. The effects of thesemedications on the developing fetus in pregnant women are unknown. Women who are pregnant or maybecome pregnant should discuss this with their physician.
Nursing mothers should not take any stimulant, because small amounts will pass into breast milk and be
ingested by the baby. If stopping the stimulant is not an alternative, breastfeeding should not be started orshould be discontinued.
Possible Drug Interactions
Stimulants should not be taken in combination with a group of antidepressants known as monoamine oxidase
(MAOIs). The combination may precipitate increases in blood pressure. This and other significant
drug interactions reported with stimulants are summarized in the table below.
MAOIs should not be taken with methylphenidates
(e.g., Concerta, Ritalin, Focalin), dextroamphet-amines (e.g., DextroStat, Adderall, Adderall XR), and Strattera. The combination may precipitate dangerous elevation of blood pressure.
Weight-loss medications, prescription and non-
prescription, should not be taken with dextroam-phetamines/amphetamines or methylphenidates. The combination may increase blood pressure or cause irritability, insomnia, and other adverse reactions from excessive stimulation.
Methylphenidate may increase the anticoagulant
Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine),
These medications may inhibit the metabolism of
Tagamet (cimetidine), Wellbutrin (bupropion),
Strattera and should be monitored closely when
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The severity of acute amphetamine and methylphenidate overdose depends on the amount ingested. The indi-vidual may experience a progression of the following symptoms from an acute overdose: restlessness, agitation,irritability, insomnia, hyperactivity, confusion, elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate, delirium, hallucina-tions, irregular heartbeat, convulsions, coma, circulatory collapse, and death.
Any suspected overdose should be treated as an emergency. The person should be taken to the emergency
room for observation and treatment. The prescription bottle of medication (and any other medication sus-pected in the overdose) should be brought as well, because the information on the prescription label can behelpful to the treating physician in determining the number of pills ingested.
• Dexedrine and Ritalin should be taken early in the morning, especially the sustained-release preparations,
so the action of the medication does not extend into bedtime hours and interfere with sleep.
• Do not chew or crush the sustained-release or long-acting preparations; swallow the tablet or capsule
• Do not take more than instructed by your physician. • If the stimulant causes pronounced nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, loss of appetite, or weight loss, no-
• If you miss a dose, take it as soon as possible. If it is close to the next scheduled dose, skip the missed dose
and continue on your regular dosing schedule. Do not take double doses.
• Store the medication in its originally labeled, light-resistant container, away from heat and moisture. Heat and
moisture may precipitate breakdown of your medication, and the medication may lose its therapeutic effects.
• Keep your medications out of reach of children.
If you have any questions about your medication, consult your physician or pharmacist.
Copyright 2009 American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.
The purchaser of this book is licensed to distribute copies of these handouts
in limited amounts. Please see copyright page for further information. The authors have worked to ensure that all information on this
handout concerning drug dosages, schedules, routes of administration, and side effects is accurate as of the time of publication and con-
sistent with standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the general medical community and accepted psychiatric prac-
tice. This handout does not cover all possible uses, precautions, side effects, or interactions of the drug. For a complete listing of side
effects, see the manufacturer’s package insert, which can be obtained from your physician or pharmacist. As medical research and practice
advance, therapeutic standards may change. For this reason, and because human and mechanical errors sometimes occur, we recommend
that readers follow the advice of a physician who is directly involved in their care or the care of a member of their family.
From Chew RH, Hales RE, Yudofsky SC: What Your Patients Need to Know About Psychiatric Medications,
Second Edition. Washington,
DC, American Psychiatric Publishing, 2009
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