‘Shocking’ Number of Toddlers Being Prescribed ADHD Medication

‘Shocking’ Number of Toddlers Being Prescribed ADHD Medication

Thousands of toddlers are being prescribed medication that health officials say could be entirely inappropriate for them and even detrimental to their health.

Photo credit: Shutterstock
Photo credit: Shutterstock

According to the New York Times, a study led by Susanna Visser with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 10,000 toddlers — children age 2 and 3 years old — are receiving medication for ADHD. Visser’s data comes from Medicaid claims filed in Georgia and private claims filed nationwide as cited by the research firm MarketScan.

“If we applied Georgia’s rate to the number of toddlers on Medicaid nationwide, we would expect at least 10,000 of those to be on ADHD medication,” Dr. Visser told the Times, noting that the MarketScan data of private insurance claims would only add more to that estimate.

“Families of toddlers with behavioral problems are coming to the doctor’s office for help, and the help they’re getting too often is a prescription for a Class II controlled substance, which has not been established as safe for that young of a child,” Visser continued. “It puts these children and their developing minds at risk, and their health is at risk.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children with possible behavioral issues be evaluated for ADHD starting at age 4, not as early as 2 or 3 when Visser found some children are being medicated. The CDC also doesn’t recommend evaluating a child for ADHD before this age.

Even for younger patients diagnosed with the disorder — those 4 to 5 years old — the CDC recommends behavioral treatment first and medication only after behavior interventions didn’t result in any improvement.

“Treating babies with stimulants is based on no research, is reckless and takes no account of the possible harmful, long-term effects of bathing baby brains with powerful neurotransmitter drugs,” Allen Frances, a professor emeritus at Duke University and former chairman of the DSM-IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) task force, wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post regarding the CDC’s recent findings.

Other doctors interviewed by the Times expressed similar sentiments:

“It’s absolutely shocking, and it shouldn’t be happening,” said Anita Zervigon-Hakes, a children’s mental health consultant to the Carter Center. “People are just feeling around in the dark. We obviously don’t have our act together for little children.”

Dr. Lawrence H. Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., said in a telephone interview: “People prescribing to 2-year-olds are just winging it. It is outside the standard of care, and they should be subject to malpractice if something goes wrong with a kid.”

Other studies have questioned the drug’s effectiveness — one found it might not lead to an improvement in grades — and another detailed the growing number of adults taking medications to treat ADHD, with doctors saying this demographic was reaching “epidemic” levels.

Front page image via Shutterstock.