A recent survey revealed that 6.4 million children were diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives, a shocking increase of 53% in the last ten years.
Researchers found that around one in five high school boys were diagnosed with the disorder in America. Doctors are in disbelief at this statistic, as it indicates that children are likely being diagnosed with it when they experience very mild symptoms.
"Those are astronomical numbers. I'm floored," Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist said. "Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy."
Doctors are also worried that with an increase in the amount of children having access to the drugs, other children who are undiagnosed will be tempted to take the medication.
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"If we start treating children who do not have the disorder with stimulants, a certain percentage are going to have problems that are predictable - some of them are going to end up with abuse and dependence. And with all those pills around, how much of that actually goes to friends? Some studies have said it's about 30 percent," Professor of Psychiatry James Swanson said.
The statistics were determined through a cellphone survey, consisting of more than 76,000 parents questioned between February 2011 and June 2012.
Most children diagnosed with the disorder are given stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall.
Since there is no diagnostic test to determine if a child has ADHD, it is mainly through analyzing the child's symptoms that a doctor makes a diagnosis.
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Symptoms of ADHD consist of difficulty paying attention, fidgeting, daydreaming, problems focusing and controlling impulsive behaviors, and talking out of turn. Most people diagnosed with the disorder are diagnosed as children, and the majority of patients are boys.
While doctors worry that the increase in children with ADHD stems from doctors over-diagnosing them, many believe most of the children diagnosed actually do have ADHD, it is the treatment that is the problem.
"Many of these kids probably do have ADHD, but my guess is that in some cases it is not the most appropriate or fitting diagnosis and that some things are being left out," Dr. Xavier Castellanos, professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Child Study Center in NYU, said.
"It's true ADHD has become more 'fashionable,' for lack of a better word, and that people are much more aware of it. One of the reasons is direct marketing to consumers by drug companies. Parents say, 'I hope it's ADHD, because then it can be fixed.'"
But Castellanos argues that even when a child does have ADHD, it is not something that is so easily fixed.
"It's complex," he said.
And as the diagnosis of ADHD increases, so does the amount of drugs prescribed and therefore the likelihood of prescription drug misuse increases.
"We need to ensure balance," CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said. "The right medications for ADHD, given to the right people, can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate."
Frieden said the misuse of ADHD drugs can happen when a child's brain starts maturing and changing as a teen, prompting new disorders to form. A person who did not have ADHD as a child could develop it as a teen.
When a teen experiences symptoms of ADHD, they may be more likely to turn to a friend with the medication instead of a doctor.
"My goal is to anticipate that and to work with the adolescent and parents to say let's decide whether or not you need to be getting treatment now," he said. "Unfortunately, in too many cases, kids go to their friends and say, 'Hey, can I take some of your pills?' It's as illegal as buying or selling cocaine."