Prescribed Stimulant Use for ADHD Continues to Rise Steadily -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine

Prescribed Stimulant Use for ADHD Continues to Rise Steadily

Photo: Boy with ADHD

ADHD is one of the most common
childhood disorders, and can
continue through adolescence and
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ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders, and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behaviour, and hyperactivity (over-activity). The condition is frequently treated with stimulants such as methylphenidate, amphetamines or other types of medications. Behavioural therapies can also be effective.

During the 1990s, stimulant prescription use increased significantly, going from a prevalence rate among youth of 0.6 per cent in 1987 to 2.7 per cent in 1997, with the rate stabilizing around 2.9 per cent in 2002. Recent reports, however, suggest that the prescribed use of these medications and the diagnosis of ADHD have continued to rise. Based on the Health Resources and Services Administration's National Survey of Children's Health, the percentage of children age 4-17 years diagnosed with ADHD increased from 7.8 per cent in 2003 to 9.5 per cent in 2007.

"Stimulant medications work well to control ADHD symptoms, but they are only one method of treatment for the condition. Experts estimate that about 60 per cent of children with ADHD are treated with medication," said co-author doctor Benedetto Vitiello.

For this most recent survey researchers examined data from the AHRQ-sponsored Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a nationally representative annual survey of U.S. households, to determine prescribed stimulant use among children under age 19 from 1996-2008. They found a slow but steady increase—from 2.4 per cent in 1996 to 3.5 per cent in 2008. The rate grew an average of 3.4 per cent each year, which is substantially less than the growth rate between 1987 and 1996, which averaged about 17 per cent per year.

Overall, prescription use among 6-12-year-olds was highest, going from 4.2 per cent in 1996 to 5.1 per cent in 2008. But the fastest growth of prescribed use occurred among 13-18-year-olds, going from 2.3 per cent in 1996 to 4.9 per cent in 2008. "This continuous increase among teens likely reflects a recent realization that ADHD often persists as children age. They do not always grow out of their symptoms," said Vitiello.

The researchers concluded that when comparing the rates of prescribed use with the estimated prevalence of ADHD diagnosis, it appears that many children with ADHD are not treated with stimulants. "The children with the most severe symptoms are more likely to be taking stimulants. Those with milder symptoms are more likely being treated with psychosocial treatments or other non-stimulant medications," they said.; Source: National Institute of Mental Health