WEDNESDAY, Sept. 28 (HealthDay News) -- The use of stimulant
medications such as Ritalin or Adderall in children with
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is continuing to
climb, although at a slower pace than in decades past, a new study
The study's authors tracked U.S. prescription data from 1996 to
2008. They found the use of ADHD drugs was the highest among kids
aged 6 to 12, rising slightly from 4.2 percent in 1996 to 5.1
percent 12 years later.
The most pronounced rise was in older children aged 13 to 18,
however. In that group, use of ADHD drugs more than doubled -- from
2.3 percent in 1996 to 4.9 percent in 2008. Researchers said that
reflects a greater understanding that kids often don't grow out of
ADHD and that symptoms can persist through adolescence and even
Overall, about 2.8 million children received a prescription for
an ADHD medication in 2008, according to the study.
"This study documents that the use of stimulants has been increasing gradually, but not as much as it increased between 1987 and 1996," when prescriptions jumped by an average of 17 percent annually, noted study co-author Dr. Benedetto Vitiello, a psychiatrist and researcher at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. "Much of the increase is due to the fact that more adolescents are taking the drug than before."
Despite worries about "overmedicated" children, the rate of use
of ADHD drugs in preschoolers aged 5 and younger actually fell
during the study period, from about 3 in 1,000 in 1996 to 1 in
1,000 in 2008, the findings revealed.
"There was a lot of concern about increasing use of this medication in very young children, but it doesn't seem to be supported by the data, and in any case is very, very low," Vitiello said.
Dr. Andrew Adesman is an ADHD expert and chief of developmental
and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's
Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He believes that
"pediatricians have been appropriately reluctant to prescribe
medications for very young children." Adesman was not involved in
The study, conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health
and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is published in
the Sept. 28 online edition of the
American Journal of Psychiatry.
More than 5 million U.S. children, or 9.5 percent, have been
diagnosed with ADHD as of 2007, according to the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Kids with the condition may act
more impulsively, and have difficulty paying attention and
controlling their behavior. Some also have hyperactivity, all of
which can raise the risk for injuries and difficulties in
ADHD is frequently treated with stimulant drugs such as
methylphenidate (best known as Ritalin), and amphetamines (such as
Adderall), among other medications.
During the latter part of the last century, stimulant
prescription use among kids rose from 0.6 percent of youth in 1987
to 2.7 percent in 1997, according to background information in the
The rapid rise came on the heels of the inclusion, for the first
time, of attention-deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity,
as a distinct problem of childhood in the third edition of the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM),
published in 1980 by the American Psychiatric Association.
Prior to that, only hyperactivity disorder was included. And
though many kids with attention-deficit disorder have trouble with
restlessness, not all have severe enough hyperactivity that it
would be brought to the attention of health professionals, experts
In the new study, Vitiello and co-author Samuel H. Zuvekas
analyzed data from the AHRQ-sponsored Medical Expenditure Panel
Survey, a nationally representative annual survey of U.S.
households. Among other things, the questionnaire asked parents
about ADHD diagnoses and prescriptions taken by their children.
Boys were three times more likely than girls to be prescribed
ADHD medications, which fits with other statistics that show more
boys are diagnosed than girls, Vitiello said.
Use among white children (4.4 percent) was higher than among
black (2.9 percent) or Hispanic children (2.1 percent).
The ADHD medication use rate was highest in kids aged 6 to 12.
That makes sense, researchers said, because often ADHD symptoms
become problematic when children enter school and struggle to stay
The increase among adolescents may be among children who had
ADHD but were able to get by through elementary school, but then
struggled in higher grades, Vitiello suggested.
"There is more recognition that the disorder does not disappear with puberty," he said. "In adolescents, the symptoms become more evident because the academic demands increase. The tasks they have to do in school become more complex. Even though they were able to get by in elementary school and middle school, in high school they become more impaired because their attention is not what it should be."
The rate of ADHD prescriptions was significantly lower in the
West than in other parts of the nation. Researchers aren't sure
why. Two possible reasons could include more parents being
reluctant to medicate their children, or school systems that handle
kids with ADHD differently, Vitiello noted.
Experts estimate that about 60 percent of children with ADHD are
treated with medication, Vitiello said, probably those with the
most severe symptoms.
There's more on ADHD medications at
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.