The use of prescription drugs to treat children for attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) — which causes kids to be inattentive, impulsive, and over-active — has increased dramatically over the past decade, according to a new study. Over a 12-year period beginning in 1996, the number of kids to whom we're administering ADHD drugs rose from 1.8 million to 2.3 million. What's responsible for this increase? Here, a brief guide:
Who's taking these ADHD treatment drugs?
In 1996, 2.4 percent of children under 19 were being prescribed ADHD treatment drugs like Adderall. By 2008, that figure was 3.5 percent. According to Psych Central, among 6- to 12-year-olds, those numbers grew from 4.2 percent in 1996 to 5.1 percent in 2008. However, it was teenagers — ages 13 to 18 — who saw the largest percentage growth, more than doubling from 2.3 percent in 1996 to 4.9 percent in 2008.
Why such a spike among teens?
It "likely reflects a recent realization that ADHD often persists as children age," says Dr. Benedetto Vitiello, the study's co-author. Contrary to earlier assumptions, kids "do not always grow out of their symptoms." That means they are now continuing to take these drugs well into their teen years.
Any other reason for the increase?
Yes. ADHD treatments are also on the rise among minorities — in some cases, nearly doubling from 1996 to 2008. That suggests to researchers that there's not only "more recognition of ADHD" among minority groups, but also an "acceptance of psychopharmacological treatment" as a viable solution.
Is it possible we're over-drugging our kids?
Some think so. Dr. Lawrence Diller at The Huffington Post goes so far as to call it an "epidemic." I've prescribed these drugs to kids for more than 30 years, Diller says. And I believe in "the effectiveness and safety of these medicines." But we should all be worried about a medical system "that is so dependent on this treatment." We've got to try and find a "sensible middle ground" in which these drugs aren't seen as some sort of cure-all.