Dexedrine – A Medication for ADHD

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Dexedrine is a psychostimulant medication prescribed to treat ADHD. Like other stimulant medications, Dexedrine acts on the central nervous system and increases the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain. The boost of two of these neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine, helps improve a person’s focus and concentration, and reduces hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.

There are two groups of stimulant medications—amphetamine and methylphenidate.

Dexedrine is a member of the amphetamine drug family, as are Adderall and Vyvanse. Examples of ADHD medications from the methylphenidate family are Ritalin and Focalin.

Dexedrine is a brand name for a drug that is composed completely of dextroamphetamine. It is available in tablets, and as capsules called Dexedrine Spansule:

  • Dexedrine tablets are short acting, and are effective for about 4 to 6 hours. They are usually taken two or three times per day.
  • Spansule is extended release, and so is typically effective for 8 to 10 hours. When a capsule is taken, a first dose is released promptly, and the remaining medication is released gradually. It is taken once per day.

The History of Dexedrine

Dextroamphetamine is one of the oldest stimulant medications. Here is a quick look at its history:

  • 1940s – In the mid 1940s, an American pharmaceutical company called Smith, Kline & French first marketed a product called Dexedrine.
  • 1960s – The United States passed a law that required all drugs on the market to be effective and safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began the Drug Efficacy Study Implementation (DESI) program, which evaluated all the drugs that were available before 1962. The process evaluated 3,443 products and was completed in 1984. During the DESI process, Dexedrine was approved for narcolepsy and “hyperkinetic disorder of childhood.” This was a name for the condition now called ADHD.
  • In 1976, Dexedrine Spansule was approved. It had been available before this date, but had not been formally approved under the modern FDA approval standards.
  • 1990s – In the early 1990s, several companies were making dextroamphetamine.

Forms and Doses

Short-acting Dexedrine tablets are available in 5-milligram (mg) dosages. Dexedrine Spansule is available in 5 mg, 10 mg, and 15 mg capsules. Both are approved by the FDA for people six years of age and older.

Your doctor will work closely with you to find the right therapeutic dose for you or your child. Typically, the lowest dose is tried first. The dose is gradually increased by five milligrams at a time until the dose is found that helps the ADHD symptoms. The dose could range from 5 mg to 40 mg.

Cost

Dexedrine is a brand name drug. A month’s supply without insurance can cost about $350, depending on the frequency and dose.

The generic version of Dexedrine is called dextroamphetamine. Both short-acting tablets and Spansule capsules are available in generic versions. However, some people report that the generic version is not as effective, or they have side effects they did not have with Dexedrine.

Does Dexedrine Slow a Child’s Growth?

In the 1970s there were concerns that taking a stimulant medication might slow or stunt a child’s growth.

Because Dexedrine was a popular ADHD medication at that time, people often make a connection between Dexedrine and children’s growth issues.

In his book Taking Charge of ADHD, Russell Barkley, PhD, explains that the risk of slow or stunted growth because of a stimulant medication is much less than it was thought to be in the 1970s.

When it was believed ADHD stimulant medication could affect growth, parents were advised to give their children ‘medication holidays.’ This meant children would take their medication as prescribed during the school year, but would have a break during school holidays and possibly on weekends.

Today, as there is less concern about ADHD medication affecting growth, drug holidays are a topic to discuss with your child’s doctor. While stimulant medication helps with academic performance, it also assists with other aspects of a child’s life including social connection (friends and family members), and performance in recreational activities and sports.

Doctors often monitor a child’s height while the child is taking a stimulant medication. You and your child’s doctor can talk about the benefits and value, for your child in particular, of taking a medication versus having a break from the medication.

Does Dexedrine Cause Weight Loss?

Dexedrine can suppress appetite and result in weight loss. If you or your child is trying to maintain or gain weight, this can be a problem. It is important to ensure adequate nutrient intake. Having breakfast before taking your medication can be helpful. Also, have snacks close at hand for when the medication starts to wear off. Always speak to your doctor so he or she is aware of the situation and can monitor it.

Side Effects

Some common side effects of Dexedrine include headaches, loss of appetite, weight loss, dry mouth, tremors, insomnia, and upset stomach.

For Women: Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant, nursing, or plan on becoming pregnant. Dexedrine is a category C drug, and could be unsafe to an unborn child.

Drug Interactions: Let your doctor know about all the medications you take, as they could interact with Dexedrine. This means medications that are prescribed and over-the-counter, and natural treatments.

If you need to stop taking Dexedrine for any reason, do not stop abruptly. Speak with your doctor to get help to taper the dose to minimize or reduce possible side effects.

Is Dexedrine Still Prescribed?

Yes, Dexedrine is still prescribed. However, it is considered to be an older ADHD medication. It is not as widely prescribed as the more modern stimulant medications like Adderall and Vyvanse.

New medications and special ways medications can be delivered or released in the body are being developed all the time. These new developments usually mean the patient's experience and quality of life are improved.

For example, Dexedrine and Vyvanse both consist of 100 percent dextroamphetamine. However, they differ in the delivery method. Vyvanse is a prodrug. It contains lisdexamfetamine, which only changes into dextroamphetamine when it is taken orally and metabolized by the body’s enzymes. This process takes about 1 to 2 hours. There is not a sudden kick or jolt to the body when the medication starts to work. Because of this, Vyvanse is often described as a smooth drug. In addition, there can be less of a medication rebound as the drug’s effects start to wear off.

Another benefit of Vyvanse as a prodrug is that it is less likely to be abused. It cannot be inhaled or injected as a way to become high.

Some people, who have taken Dexedrine in the past will switch to a newer ADHD drug, but not everyone does. Your doctor might prescribe Dexedrine if you have tried a newer ADHD medication and have not experienced relief from ADHD symptoms.

Will Dexedrine Be Different Than Ritalin?

It can be disappointing if you try a medication and it does not work in the way you hoped. Each person will respond slightly differently to each drug. In their book ‘Answers to Distraction,’ medical doctors Edward Hallowell and John Ratey say that Ritalin can give more alertness, energy and motivation, while Dexedrine balances mood, helps with focus, and seems to calm restlessness.

An experienced clinician will be able to listen to your ADHD symptoms and select the best medication for you. Each person experiences different benefits and side effects with their ADHD medication. This is why there is often some back and forth until you and your doctor find the right medication and dosage for you.

Is Dexedrine Safe?

The biggest concern people have with a stimulant medication is whether it is safe. Dexedrine is a Schedule II drug, and this means there is a potential for abuse. Always take your medication as prescribed. If you have a history of substance abuse, talk about this with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to help you find the right ADHD treatment for you. Keep your medication in a safe place, away from other people and never share your medication.

Sources:

Barkley, R. Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents. The Guilford Press, 2013.

Hallowell E, Ratey J. Answers to Distraction, Anchor. 2010.

Email correspondence with the FDA 17th April 2017.

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