by Kimberly Allen, RN
In the US, the number of children being given prescription drugs for ADHD has increased by 53% over the last decade. Currently there are approximately six and a half million children between 4-17 years of age that have been diagnosed with ADHD and are taking prescription drugs. This dramatic increase has many doctors concerned that many children are being misdiagnosed with ADHD. Many teachers and schools are telling parents they need to have their children put on medication because they are disruptive in class. Frequently, this is more of a lack of discipline or maturity in the child than true ADHD. Also, experts state that many children that are accurately diagnosed can do just as well and in many cases better by using alternative therapies like dietary changes and behavior therapy. These don’t have the side effects or the potential health risks that prescription drugs do.
Another trend that has many health officials and clinicians concerned is the trend of giving medications for ADHD to normal healthy children. Why would anyone want to do that? Probably the biggest reason is to boost a child’s academic performance. Medications that are prescribed to treat ADHD improve the child’s ability to focus and concentrate as well as improve memory and thinking ability. There have been many names given to this practice like “meducation” or “neuroenhancement.” However, no matter what name you use, the American Academy of Neurology has called this practice dangerous. Despite the warnings many parents and teens as well as college students are actively seeking these medications from their doctors. The intense competition to get into a “good” college as well as for scholarships has many experts concerned that the pressure on doctos to prescribe these drugs strictly for improving academic performance will only increase. This practice contradicts a doctor’s responsibility to “promote a child’s authentic development and to protect him/her against coercion by parents or peers.” Unfortunately, along with increasing awareness of ADHD, parents as well as young adults are well aware of the symptoms and know exactly what to say and how to answer the doctor’s questions making it even more difficulty for the doctor to give an accurate diagnosis. In our current culture of pushing kids to excel, parents are struggling with the ethics of doing what’s best for their child.
Many experts are concerned that the use of “academic enhancing” drugs causes similar problems as performance enhancing drugs used by athletes. There are numerous potential long term effects of using such medications on the developing brain. There is also the issue of distinguishing the difference between normal and abnormal intellectual development.
While the number of doctors office visits as well as the number of prescriptions for medications to manage ADHD has increased by ten times over the past 20 years, it is the significant increase in older adolescents that indicates a problem with both over diagnosis and over medicating. Children that are healthy should not be exposed to the risks and side effects of prescription drugs that have the potential for long term effects on their health. However, it is also important that children that are accurately diagnosed with ADHD have access to these medications. They have been proven safe and effective when used appropriately in appropriate doses and for the short term. One expert states it’s important to educate the parents as well as young adults that these medications, while proven safe and effective in children accurately diagnosed with ADHD, there is no evidence on how safe they are when taken by normal healthy children strictly for academic enhancement.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.