ADHD Stimulant Drugs – Are they overused?

The latest studies show that while ADHD drugs can be effective, some children may be inaccurately diagnosed and therefore inappropriately treated with the stimulant medications.

An estimated 3% to 7% of kids of school-age have ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Some studies, however, have estimated higher rates in community samples. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described people with ADHD as those who may have difficulty paying attention, may act without thinking of the consequences of his or her action, or being overly active. Such symptoms may be connected with school problems and can lead to offending or even lawless attitude.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a large study involving an estimated 26,000 Swedish people with the disorder showed that psychostimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall which are used as treatments for ADHD can mitigate criminal behavior. Results from the study showed that men taking the medications manifested a 32% reduction in crime rates while they were taking the drugs compared to periods when they were not. Similarly, women showed a 41% lower rate of criminality(New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 22, 2012).

While ADHD medications prove beneficial in most cases of ADHD children, there are other research studies that show that such medications may be abused. This may be attributed to the increasing awareness about ADHD and how medications or stimulant drugs can provide immediate though temporary solutions to treat children’s erratic behaviors.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, made an analysis of prescriptions for ADHD showing that about half of the youngest children in a class are more likely to be diagnosed, which can cast a doubt if these children are just less mature (Journal of Health Economics, 2010) than the older children in the same class, more than having the disorder.

The new research seems to fuel up current debate on the use or misuse of ADHD drugs to treat the disorder. A significant increase in the dispensed stimulant drugs has been observed along with ADHD diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study made in 2010 reveals that an estimated 9.5% of kids aged 4 to 17 years have been determined to have ADHD. 5% of children in the US aged 6 to 12 years as of 2008 were using ADHD stimulant drugs to treat the disorder. This percentage has continued to rise since the 1980s. The number of drug prescriptions given to young people aged 10 to 19 increased to 26% or an equivalent 21 million yearly since 2007. This could easily imply that stimulant drugs used for ADHD may have been over-used which could be a result of ADHD children being over diagnosed.

There has been a nagging fear among critics, experts and the public about the effects of stimulants to children believed to be afflicted with ADHD. Critics are concerned that such psychostimulants simply drug children into submission and the youngsters are eventually into compliant robots softened by the effects of medication, as they showed no will to engage in defiant behavior. Unfortunately, only few documented studies on the effects of the drugs from the perspective of the children taking them are existent.

This was the core of the VOICES (Voices On Identity, Childhood, Ethics and Stimulants) study pursued by Ilina Singh of King’s College London along with her colleaguesLauren Baker and Katelyn Thomas. Said study involved 151 American and British children 9 to 14 years of age who were into prescription drugs for ADHD between 2008 and 2010 (Singh, I. (2012). VOICES Study: Final Report. London, UK). Interviews with the children concluded that stimulant drugs improve their capacity for moral agency. An 11 year old American girl told the researchers that medication allows them to be the same person but acting a little better and that stimulant drugs improve their emotional self-control, moral decision making and aggressive behaviors.

Out of the 151 children in the study, about 8% admitted having problems with their medications and they are more related to the side effects, and not causing them to comply even if they didn’t want to, or alter their personality (Time Health and Family, November 26, 2012). The stimulant drugs give the children time to deliberate which eventually leads to more thoughtful and better decisions, thus opening up more windows for success in overcoming the symptoms of ADHD and be able to have close to normal relationships and productive careers.

The Swedish study supports this perspective. ADHD has long been associated with an increased risk for crime and for drug addiction. By helping people with ADHD through medication, to think and assess their actions, they seem to succeed at avoiding avoid questionable and even criminal behavior. The same study also showed that non-medicated people with ADHD are four to seven times more likely than others to break the law.

The series of studies generally support the beneficial use of medication for ADHD patients, specifically for those with difficulties with impulsivity. The correct use of the medications enhances the quality of life and it brings down the risk of manifesting criminal actions at the same time. For people properly diagnosed with ADHD and without any unbearable side effects caused by the drugs, the results are increasingly clear and very promising – stimulant medications don’t turn kids into zombies or robots. Stimulant drugs can cause prevention of crime as the person with ADHD is relieved from having harmful or destructive urges. These stimulant medications are not in any way any form of a miracle drug that can cure everything and they are also not quick fix solutions to calm down edgy children.