Is ADHD Getting Out of Control?
The Ballooning Effect
It's a rare parent today who's not familiar with the term attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Indeed, this once-obscure abbreviation is now a household word, thanks in part to the fact that the number of kids diagnosed with the condition has skyrocketed -- from an estimated 150,000 in 1970, to a half million in 1985, to a whopping four million currently. (It is outranked only by asthma and allergies among childhood disorders.)
Predictably, prescriptions for ADHD treatments have ballooned proportionately, rising more than 47 percent over the past five years to a current total of 31 million. The ADHD therapeutic arsenal -- a $2.2-billion-a-year business -- now includes a dozen drugs, the use of which has steadily drifted downward to ever-younger children.
A landmark 2000 Journal of the American Medical Association study revealed that use among 2- to 4-year-olds of stimulants such as Ritalin (which, paradoxically, have a calming effect on hyperactive kids) nearly tripled from 1991 to 1995; Ritalin prescriptions for preschoolers rose 49 percent from 2000 to 2003. This is especially sobering in view of the fact that Ritalin is not even approved for use in children under 6; all these prescriptions are written off-label.
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