Over the past two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of diagnoses of and medications prescribed for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. In a new statement issued by the American Academy of Neurology, doctors stress the ethical and medical implications of prescribing these drugs to healthy kids and teens. Although a child with ADHD may benefit from treatment, otherwise healthy kids, who have not been diagnosed with ADHD but believe their performance in school can be improved, are increasingly using these medications.
In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that 1.7 percent of eighth graders and 7.6 percent of 12th graders have used Adderall. Although some of these prescriptions are obtained from doctors to treat youngsters with diagnosed psychological disorders, other children may get the drug from their peers or on the street. This is especially worrisome to Dr. William Graf of Yale University and lead author of the statement, who says that this is the equivalent of giving amphetamines to kids. I think we have to be worried about how that affects the brain, mood, rational thought.
Dr. Graf adds that doctors should not give prescriptions to teens who ask for medication to enhance concentration against their parents advice. But Almut Winterstein, a pharmacy researcher from the University of Florida in Gainesville, points out that parents may not always be the best decision makers, saying that she is concerned personally that many parents believe that if their child doesn t do well in school, they must have ADHD, and therefore need stimulants.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross believes that the problem of excessive use of ADHD drugs may be even more pronounced in colleges. I can easily imagine how a college kid might want to enhance his or her achievement on a test by taking an ADHD drug, only for this once. But all too often, as is the case with most addictive substances, it becomes hard to forsake the thrill and the other perceived benefits, and addiction ensues.
ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan adds, Doctors are also at fault. There is of course pressure from parents and kids to prescribe some drug to, hopefully, reduce unpleasant or antisocial behaviors, or to enhance school performance. But doctors should refrain from caving to such pressure and over-diagnosing ADHD, as the risk to kids from needless medication is a very real one.