During a four-year span, the use of medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder rose not only in children but even more so in adults, according to a new study published Wednesday. Some health professionals went so far to say the disorder has reached epidemic proportions, while others question its classification altogether.
The study by Express Scripts Lab evaluated pharmacy claims data between 2008 and 2012, finding the use of medication to treat ADHD rose 36 percent overall. Though children are the primary users of ADHD medications, the study said the number of adults being prescribed with these drugs, which include Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta, rose more than 53 percent in 2012, while it was only at 18.9 percent in 2008.
The greatest increase in ADHD drug users was among women age 26 to 34.
“How long will experts’ heads remain in the sand on this epidemic?” Dr. Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in California, told the New York Times of the study’s findings.
ADHD has been increasing for at least 15 years. Experts think that’s because more doctors are looking for ADHD, and more parents know about it. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of a survey that found more than 1 in 10 children are diagnosed with ADHD.
Some doctors though question whether the disorder is actually valid at all.
“This so-called condition has apparently spread like wildfire across the globe in recent years, with a huge increase in its diagnosis and medication,” Dr. Richard Saul, a behavioral neurologist and author of the new book “ADHD Does Not Exist,” wrote.
“To treat ADHD as a condition, rather than a set of symptoms, is doing a terrible and dangerous, disservice to the children and adults who are diagnosed with it. There is no doubt that the symptoms — an inability to pay attention to details, fidgeting, interrupting, difficulty staying seated, impulsive behavior — exist,” he continued. “But to lump them together and turn them into a diagnosis of ADHD, then to treat this so-called condition with stimulants, is like treating the symptoms of a heart attack — such as severe chest pain — with painkillers, rather than tackling the cause of them by repairing the heart. It is dangerous, neglectful and wrong.”
The biggest takeaway from Express Scripts study is that it isn’t known how these drugs might affect older patients.
“There are, however, concerns that less appropriate uses of the medication may be behind the increase in use among women. Stimulant medications are known to decrease a person’s appetite and are sometimes used as a weight-loss aid. Also, some women may turn to these medications, or experience symptoms of attention disorders, as a result of keeping up with the multiple demands on their time,” Dr. David Muzina wrote about the study.
“While generally safe for the majority of the population of patients, stimulants prescribed for ADHD come with several serious safety concerns and have an addictive nature. Use of these medications can be dangerous for patients with heart problems and may cause serious interactions with other medications and conditions, like bipolar disorder,” Muzina continued.
Some professionals have criticized the studies about the prevalence of ADHD, saying they “overestimate true prevalence” of the disorder.
But there’s no denying that that abuse of ADHD medications are on the rise.
“As we move forward, we want to make sure that people who have the disorder get the prescription. And that people who don’t have the disorder don’t,” Dr. Lenard Adler, director of the adult ADHD. program at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, told the New York Times.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Featured image via Shutterstock.