Myth: Stimulant Medication is Overprescribed

Eileen Bailey

Stimulant medications are often a front line treatment for ADHD. They can, when used properly, decrease hyperactivity and impulsiveness and increase attention. Numerous studies have been completed showing that stimulant medication, used in conjunction with behavioral therapy, is the most effective way to treat ADHD. The amount of prescriptions for stimulant medication has dramatically increased over the past 20 years. There was a 250% increase between the year 1990 and 1995. So why has this happened?

While reading and researching the topic of whether stimulant medication is over-prescribed for children with ADHD, I began to understand that there is not really a question of whether stimulant medication is over-prescribed. The articles and information that argue that medication is over-prescribed are actually arguing on the validity of ADHD as a real disorder. For example, Dr. Richard Bromfeld wrote on the viewpoint that Ritalin is "being dispensed with a speed and nonchalance compatible to our drive-through culture." Although Dr. Bromfeld admits that some people "probably do merit a diagnosis of ADHD" he further explains, "random violence, drugs, alcohol, domestic trauma and (less horrifically) indulgent and chaotic homes are more obvious reasons for the ADHD-like restlessness that plagues America." Is Dr. Bromfeld discussing the amount of prescriptions written for people with ADHD or is he discussing his apparent disbelief in the diagnosis of ADHD?

According to a study completed in 1999 (Jensen, et.al., 1999), stimulant medications are not being over-prescribed. This study showed that only 12% of children diagnosed with ADHD were being treated with stimulant medications. One third of the children with ADHD received behavioral or some other form of therapy. Less than 25% of the children received special services at school. Based on this study, the majority of children with ADHD received no treatment at all. In addition, small percentages, less than 2% of children that did not meet the criteria of ADHD fully, were receiving stimulant medication.

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