It’s pretty widely accepted these days that too many young children—especially boys—are being diagnosed with ADHD. And it’s just as widely accepted that too many of those children are taking too much medication. Still, for the kids who truly need the medication, there are tremendous benefits. But ADHD meds are stimulants and they’re now being taken by kids who don’t have ADHD but who think taking the drugs will improve their concentration and, consequently, their GPA.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that 1.7 percent of 8th graders and 7.6 percent of 12th graders have used Adderall (one of the most common ADHD meds) for non-medical reasons. And here’s where the overmedication issue comes in. Because kids who don’t actually need meds aren’t taking them, there’s a thriving grey market where those unused pills are sold to other kids who don’t need them but who really want them.
Unfortunately, the side effects of ADHD meds can be pretty serious, including, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and can even increase the risk of cardiovascular problems in at-risk kids. That is one of the reasons the American Academy of Neurology just came out with a statement cautioning doctors from prescribing unneeded medication. “Doctors caring for children and teens have a professional obligation to always protect the best interests of the child, to protect vulnerable populations, and prevent the misuse of medication,” said William Graf, M.D., one of the authors of the statement. “The practice of prescribing these drugs, called neuroenhancements, for healthy students is not justifiable.” In an interview with Reuters Health, Dr. Graf added “You’re giving amphetamines to kids. I think we have to be worried about how that affects the brain, mood, rational thought… and we don’t have enough data about that yet.”
The position paper was published in the journal Neurology. Read the abstract here.