From the Journals

Sleep disorders in children with ADHD treated with off-label medications



Sleep problems in children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are treated with a variety of medications, many off label for sleep and unstudied for safety and effectiveness in children, a study of Medicaid prescriptions has found.

Tracy Klein, PhD, Washington State University, Vancouver

Tracy Klein, PhD

“Sleep disorders coexist with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for many children and are associated with neuropsychiatric, physiologic, and medication-related outcomes,” wrote Tracy Klein, PhD, of Washington State University, Vancouver, and her colleagues. The report is in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care. These patients can have sleep disordered breathing and behavioral issues occurring around bedtime. Known adverse effects of the stimulant and nonstimulant medications used to treat ADHD can include sleep disturbance, delayed circadian rhythm, insomnia, and somnolence. Yet, research on both sleep problems in children with ADHD and prescribing patterns is scanty, according to the investigators.

Dr. Klein and her colleagues conducted a study aimed at identifying the off-label medications being prescribed to potentiate sleep in children with ADHD, and the characteristics of the children and their prescribers. They used 5 years of pharmacy claims for children in Oregon insured through Medicaid and had a provider diagnosis of ADHD during Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2016. The children were aged 3-18 years and the prescriptions measured were the number of 30-day prescriptions. Prescribers were identified by national provider identifier taxonomies (nurse, physician, other prescriber), and classified as either generalist or specialist. The medications were classified as controlled or uncontrolled as determined by Title 21 of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.

The data yielded 14,567 prescriptions for 2,518 children for a 30-day supply of medication known to potentiate sleep but off-label for children. Children aged 3-11 years comprised about 38% of these patients. Some children were prescribed more than one of these medications. Medications specifically on label for sleep but not indicated for children were not included. Those medications indicated for comorbid conditions and those indicated for ADHD that specifically cause somnolence were excluded.

The uncontrolled medications prescribed in this sample were amitriptyline, doxepin, hydroxyzine, low-dose quetiapine, and trazodone. The controlled medications identified were clonazepam and lorazepam, and a few prescriptions for phenobarbital.

Most of the prescriptions (63.8%) went to older children aged 12-18 years and most prescriptions (66.3%) went to males. The most commonly prescribed noncontrolled medication was trazodone (5,190 prescriptions), followed by hydroxyzine (2,539), and quetiapine (2,402). The most frequently prescribed controlled medication was clonazepam (2,145), followed by lorazepam (534).

Specialist prescribers wrote most of the prescriptions for this patient group, but no differences were found in prescribing patterns between specialists and generalists.

Dr. Klein and her colleagues noted that 871 unique children were prescribed 5,190 30-day−supply prescriptions for trazodone, including 23 children under age 5. Trazodone is a serotonin modulator indicated for the treatment of major depressive disorder, but has not been studied for safety and efficacy in children and has no Food and Drug Administration indication for children. “Hydroxyzine, quetiapine, and amitriptyline also were prescribed for a large number of children, including some for children as young as 3 years, despite lack of approval for use to induce to sleep and increased potential for significant adverse reactions in children,” they wrote.

Dr. Klein suggested that prescribers receive pressure from families to “do something” for their children, who may be disruptive day and night. “Prescribers may be unaware that trazodone, which is commonly used in practice, has never been approved for treatment of insomnia in children or adults. Insurance may not adequately fund other options, such as extensive behavioral therapy,” she stated in an interview. These medications come with some risk for children, Dr. Klein noted.

“Developmentally, [children] may be unable to verbally express the side effects they are feeling and may therefore be subject to a drug to treat a drug side effect, especially if their reaction to it is behavioral.” There is also potential for unanticipated drug interactions between off-label medications prescribed for sleep and drugs prescribed to treat ADHD.

This study has limitations related to the absence of detailed clinical explanatory information found in claims data. Information on adherence to treatment and adverse events, for example, is not contained in claims data. The study does not address the overall rates of sleep disorders in children with ADHD nor the percentage of children with ADHD who are prescribed any medication to potentiate sleep but looks at which off-label drugs are being prescribed, to which children, and by whom.

“Most medications prescribed in this study, used to induce sleep or treat insomnia, have not been studied for safety and efficacy in children, and their use should not be extrapolated from adult studies,” the researchers concluded.

They reported having no disclosures.

SOURCE: Klein T et al. J Pediatr Health Care. 2018 Jan 8. doi: 10.1016/j.pedhc.2018.10.002.

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