December 11, 2013
ADHD Prescriptions for Children Increase 28% in Last 8 Years

Atlanta—More than 3.5 million children in the U.S. are taking medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a 28% increase from 2003-2004 to 2011-2012.

That represents 6% of 4- to 17-year-olds, according to the new study led by researchers from the CDC and published recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

By the time American children reach high school age, nearly one in five boys and one in 11 girls have been diagnosed with ADHD by a healthcare provider, according to the study, which was based on parental reports. Overall, 6.4 million children in the U.S.—11% of 4- to 17-year-olds—were reported by their parents to have received an ADHD diagnosis from a healthcare provider, a 42% increase from 2003-04 to 2011-12.

Still, only 69% of children with a current ADHD diagnosis are on medications, according to the report, with those with more severe ADHD most likely to receive prescriptions. While some of those are receiving other treatment, about 18% of the children diagnosed with ADHD received neither medication nor mental health counseling in 2011-2012. One-third of the untreated children were reported to have a moderate or severe form of the condition, the authors write.

“This finding raises concerns about whether these children and their families are receiving needed services,” said Michael C. Lu, MD, MS, MPH, senior administrator at the Health Resources and Service Administration.

Over the last 8 years, an additional two million children were diagnosed with ADHD and an additional one million are taking medications for the condition, the study points out. One reason for the increase, according to the article, is that children are being diagnosed at a younger age, Based on the parent reports, half of children with ADHD were diagnosed by age 6 with those with more severe ADHD being diagnosed earlier, about half of them by age 4.

The study also notes wide variation across the country in diagnosing and treating ADHD. The percentage of children with a history of an ADHD diagnosis ranges from 15% in Arkansas and Kentucky to 4% in Nevada, the authors report.

The study used data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health to calculate estimates of the number of children in the U.S. ages 4 to 17 that, according to parent reports, had received a diagnosis of ADHD by a healthcare provider and were currently taking medication for ADHD.

The results suggest “an increasing burden of ADHD on the U.S. health care system,” the authors conclude. “Efforts to further understand ADHD diagnostic and treatment patterns are warranted.”

U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect