The American Academy of Neurology issued a statement this week that focused on the treatment of deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD in children and young teens. Researchers have found that the number of diagnoses and prescriptions have steadily risen over the past two decades.
While young people who live with the disorder are clearly helped by the drugs, lead author Dr William Graf pointed out that the medication must not be used by healthy youth to help better their performance at school.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1.7 per cent of children in eighth grade, and 7.6 percent of those in their final year at school, have used the stimulant Adderall for reasons outside of medical treatment.
“What we’re saying is that because of the volume of drugs and the incredible increase… the possibility of overdiagnosis and overtreatment is clearly there,” said Graf, from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Graf and his team concluded in their study that, prescribing attention or mood-enhancing drugs to healthy kids and teens is unacceptable for both legal and developmental reasons.
“You’re giving amphetamines to kids. I think we have to be worried about how that affects the brain, mood, rational thought… and we don’t have enough data about that yet,” he told Reuters Health.
Almut Winterstein, a pharmacy researcher from the University of Florida in Gainesville, agrees that there is still little known about the long term affects of stimulant use. In the short term, it is known that they increase heart rate and blood pressure.
“If you have a child who actually can sit still and doesn’t seem to have a problem focusing on a task, a stimulant won’t do a thing, and definitely won’t improve school performance,” said Winterstein.
“I am concerned personally that many parents believe that if their child doesn’t do well in school, they must have ADHD,” and therefore need stimulants, she told Reuters Health.
As Graf noted, childhood is changing in both the United States and around the world, with kids being challenged more at school and spending more time in front of the screen.
“The majority still has to agree that we’re not going to give a pill for every problem in childhood,” he said. “We’re talking about healthy kids.”