PD Editorial: ADHD: A lower bar is no solution

  • This artwork by Paul Tong relates to how children who have difficulty focusing in school are treated with attention deficit medication as a solution whether they need it or not.

America's problem with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children has been no secret. But up to now, experts believed the problem was contained to 3 percent to, at most, 7 percent of children.

A new study, however, is raising alarms that the problem is far greater than previously believed. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the number of school-age children who have received an ADHD medical diagnosis is now up to 11 percent. Among high school boys, the number is nearly 1 in 5 students.

While the problem still appears less prevalent in girls, the number of those diagnosed continues to climb. Now 10 percent of high school-age girls have been diagnosed with ADHD.

The numbers underscore the increased need for studies of what's causing this increase in attention problems and how best to treat it.

At the same time, the study has triggered renewed debate about whether the problem of ADHD is overdiagnosis.

Both can be true.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 6.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have received a diagnosis of ADHD at some point in their lives. That marks a 53 percent jump in the past decade alone.

Why? It's not clear. But what is evident is that more children are being treated with drugs as a result.

Sales of stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin have more than doubled from $4 billion in 2007 to $9 billion in 2012, according to IMS Health, a health care information company.

The CDC study shows that two-thirds of children who have been diagnosed were treated with stimulant medications. These can heighten attention, but they also come with severe side effects ranging from weight loss and suppressed growth to addiction and even psychosis.

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