Teens are increasingly being prescribed drugs for attention deficit disorders, changing the previous belief that children outgrow ADHD symptoms before high school, a national study concludes.
"In the past, ADHD was primarily a concern of children in elementary school and middle school," said psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Benedetto Vitiello of the National Institute of Mental Health. The continued use of ADHD prescriptions “reflects a recent realization that ADHD often persists as children age. They do not always grow out of their symptoms.”
Vitiello co-authored findings on ADHD, recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, said that between 1996 and 2008, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder stimulant treatment rose from 2.3 percent to 4.9 percent for teenagers 13 to 18 years old.
ADHD is a behavioral disorder marked by impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattention. Despite side effects including decreased appetite and sleeplessness, prescription drugs remain the most popular treatment for the condition, particularly among children ages 6-12. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 5 million or 9.5 percent of U.S. children ages 4 to 17 had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The report by Vitiello was co-authored by economist Samuel H. Zuvekas, Ph.D., an economist with the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, the U.S. governmental body that collected the data. Besides increased prescriptions for teen-agers with ADHD, the study stated:
• An estimated 3.5 percent of U.S. children received stimulant medication in 2008, up from 2.4 percent in 1996, representing an annual growth rate of 3.4 percent.
• Of pre-schoolers identified with ADHD, only one in a thousand are treated with drugs, less than any other age group.
• White children are more likely to be prescribed than African-American or Hispanic children.
• Boys are three times more likely than girls to be prescribed.
• Children from Western states were less likely to be prescribed than other regions.