There has been an increase in prescribing medications to children for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as a variety of other health issues. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted a significant rise in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD. In fact, the rates of diagnosis increased about 3 percent per year from 1997 to 2006, and an average of 5 percent from 2003 to 2011.
This trend has many concerned, especially since the age of those prescribed medication to treat ADHD is dropping. The New York Times reported prescriptions for children under the age of four are being administered against recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The academy doesn't even have rules in place for using such strong medications on children that young because the outcomes and effectiveness have never been tested. To many health professionals, administering prescription medications to toddlers cannot be medically justified.
"It's absolutely shocking, and it shouldn't be happening," Anita Zervigon-Hakes, a children's mental health consultant to the Carter Center, told the Times. "People are just feeling around in the dark. We obviously don't have our act together for little children."
Part of a larger trend
Pacific Standard noted the use of ADHD medications in young children is part of a bigger picture. Psychoactive drugs and antibiotics are increasing in use as well. The news source noted psychoactive medications are being prescribed to children in foster care and juvenile detention centers at an increasing rate as well. While doctors insist these children have attention difficulties or bad behavior, others are asking if giving prescriptions this early is healthy.
Susanna Visser, head of ADHD research at the CDC, assisted in putting together guidelines for the American Academy of Pediatrics and said children under the age of four could not be properly diagnosed with ADHD, according to Pacific Standard.
"Families of toddlers with behavioral problems are coming to the doctor's office for help, and the help they're getting too often is a prescription for a Class II controlled substance, which has not been established as safe for that young of a child," Visser said. "It puts these children and their developing minds at risk, and their health is at risk."
Not just a childhood condition
While more and more toddlers are being prescribed for ADHD, parents are taking the medication as well. In fact, Express Scripts reported the number of women between the ages of 26 and 34 who are turning to ADHD medications rose 85 percent in the last five years. These numbers are significant and many are concerned about potential outcomes from extended use in both children and adults.
Increase in antibiotics
ADHD medications and prescriptions for psychotropic drugs are not the only remedies increasing in usage. In general, antibiotics are on the rise and leading to additional concerns. The Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy reported as the use of antibiotics grows, an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria also occurs. This is especially concerning in children between 1 and 5 years old, who are going to have fewer options for treatment as their bodies adapt to these antibiotics at an early age.
This increase is causing more people to rely on last-resort antibiotics, and when resistance to those drugs also develops, there will be few alternatives to choose from.