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Are Doctors Overmedicating Children with ADHD?

Are Doctors Overmedicating Children with ADHD?

Overmedicating children is a loaded topic of discussion, likely to raise hackles in most circles. Mention Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and its treatment, and parents are ready to start wars - views are diverse and opinions exceedingly strong. So, to launch an informed (and civil!) discussion, let's start with the statistics.

There are more than six million children in the U.S. diagnosed with ADHD today. Between 2003 and 2011, the number of people diagnosed with an attention disorder rose with a whopping 43 percent.  In 2015, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 11 percent of Americans now have some form of attention disorder. [1]

That's not all. Over six percent of American children between the ages of four and 17 were prescribed stimulant medication (think Ritalin) in 2011. This number was up significantly from only four years before, by roughly 28 percent.

Many parents of children with an attention disorder confirmed their child also suffered from other mental health issues such as anxiety, conduct problems, and depression. Others reported their children to have autism spectrum disorder or Tourette Syndrome.[2]

Overmedicating children is a loaded topic of discussion, likely to raise hackles in most circles.

RELATED: Can CBD Help Children Struggling with Pediatric Anxiety?

The Theory of Overmedicating Children

The increasing numbers of ADHD or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) diagnosis in the country isn’t something to take lightly. The most common treatment options for these mental illnesses are well known, as Adderall and Ritalin elicit some heated opinions from parents. There is an assumption that if there is more attention deficit diagnosis, that this automatically leads to increased numbers of medicated kids. Yet, is America overmedicating children?

The numbers speak for themselves about the increasing rate of prescriptions for ADHD and other emotional or behavioral issues. According to data presented by the National Institute for Mental Health, 4.2 percent of the American population under the age of 18 were taking psychostimulants, a standard prescription for the treatment of ADHD and ADD. They noted an over four-fold prescription increase between 1988-1994 and 2007-2010.

Another common prescription for emotional and behavioral problems in children are antipsychotic drugs. According to another survey, these saw a six-fold increase of prescription to children during the same period mentioned. What is going on? Are Americans over medicating children?[3]

Is America overmedicating children?

Overmedicating Children: Fact or Fiction?

It's these worrisome numbers and other factors that are pushing some parents to find alternative solutions like CBD for ADHD, child behavioral therapy, and generally more holistic approaches. But is this concern warranted and based on soberly interpreted data?

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The short answer is yes and no. Yes, parents are probably correct to be concerned that medication is too easily prescribed, but no, the data doesn’t support the notion that over-prescription for children is a problem.

Recently, a new study addressed this growing concern among parents about overmedicating children for ADHD and ADD. Published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, researchers from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center crunched some of the same numbers compiled by the National Institute for Mental Health. They found that, when put into context, the hard data is inconsistent with the “overmedicating children” theory. [4]

Dr. Sultan, a lead researcher on the study, explained in an interview with Science Direct, “Our results show that, at a population level, prescriptions of stimulants and antidepressant medications for children and adolescents do not appear to be prescribed at rates higher than the known rates for psychiatric conditions they are designed to treat.”

He went on to say that, “the patterns of prescriptions for antidepressants and stimulants are broadly consistent with the typical ages associated with the onsets of common mental disorders.”

It remains to be seen whether or not America is genuinely overmedicating children, as these issues are complex. The numbers of prescriptions for emotional and behavioral disorders are on the rise, but so too are the diagnosis of these diseases. Some authorities speculate that there seems to be a problem with under prescription for these conditions. So, are doctors getting better at diagnosis? Or are they incorrectly diagnosing ‘difficult’ or 'energetic' children with mental disorders? The debate remains open and will continue.

It remains to be seen whether or not America is genuinely overmedicating children

Whatever the truth, parents are shown to be reluctant to medicate their children, and rightfully so. Some experts, such as Dr. Rene Soria-Saucedo, from the University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy, believe that medications may be offered to children way before other options are exhausted.

So, do doctors slap a prescription on a young child unnecessarily, and before exploring options such as behavioral therapy and/or parental training? This possibility is worrisome as, according to Dr. Soria-Saucedo, the “usefulness of medication at this early age is poorly understood.”[5]

CBD for ADHD: Child Appropriate Alternative?

There is enough negative media attention regarding prescriptions for ADHD for some parents to consider alternative medications or therapies. Many guardians are now asking about CBD for ADHD, and if children might find relief with this all-natural, plant-derived compound.

Some parents have already started treating their children with CBD, despite the fact that child studies of CBD for ADHD are non-existent. But, is there study material available about CBD for ADHD in adults, and what does it say? Could it at least give an indication whether this is a viable option for children with mental health issues?

Unfortunately, there is little research done on ADHD and CBD to date, and most of the preliminary studies are animal trials. However, this doesn’t mean that CBD is inaccessible for children with this diagnosis.

As pointed out by the CDC, children with ADHD are commonly diagnosed with concurrent mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. So, instead of medicating children with a handful of drugs with serious side effects, could CBD be a simple, all-natural alternative?

This is an interesting theory, as there is more evidence supporting CBD’s role in addressing mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, than there currently is for ADHD. There is also significant support for CBD as an antipsychotic. These studies are still preliminary in nature, but much farther along than any research into CBD and ADHD. Unfortunately, children are still relatively absent from this line of research. [6][7][8]

A Safer Alternative to Conventional ADHD Drugs

There is no denying that many of the pharmaceuticals prescribed to children with ADD/ADHD, like Adderall and Ritalin, have long-term side effects. They are amphetamines, after all, and as children age, the risk of substance abuse increases. The possibility of addiction is one of many serious side effects, which include depression, suicidal thoughts, hypertension and more. [9]

Once medical researchers get a better understanding of how CBD for ADHD could work, CBD will likely offer a much better safety profile than amphetamine-based medicine. In a recent review of the available research, “the often described favorable safety profile of CBD in humans was confirmed and extended.” It was also confirmed, “In comparison with other drugs, used for the treatment of these medical conditions, CBD has a better side effect profile.”[10]

This conclusion is especially true for children. Although there aren’t any studies on CBD for ADHD; children have been given CBD oil in a research setting for other illnesses. Epilepsy is one of the primary focuses of pediatric use of CBD oil today. According to this area of study, children adapt well to CBD therapy, with little side effects. [11]

The safety profile of CBD is considered so appealing for the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy that the Food and Drug Administration recently issued a recommendation for its approval. As reported on the briefing by NBC, “In general, the risks associated with CBD treatment appear acceptable, particularly given the findings of clinical efficacy in LGS and DS (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome), which are serious, debilitating, and life-threatening disorders.” If this goes through, a pharmaceutical preparation of CBD would be available for children ages two and up.[12]

RELATED: CBD Can Help Improve Your Mood

Overmedicating Children, Still Up for Debate

Nobody can yet say if there is truly an issue with overmedicating children in America. Statistics and theories seem to support both sides of the debate. Nevertheless, many parents wish to refrain from treatment with conventional prescriptions for various reasons.

Developing children could benefit from safer, more holistic alternatives. Could CBD for ADHD (in both children and adults) be a new approach? We will need to await further study to draw any firm conclusions.

Sources:

[1]  https://www.additudemag.com/the-statistics-of-adhd/

[2]  https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html

[3]  https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/directors/thomas-insel/blog/2014/are-children-overmedicated.shtml

[4]  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180129181419.htm

[5]  https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2017-10-04/are-we-overmedicating-our-children-with-adhd

[6]  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24923339

[7]  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604171/

[8]  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22716160

[9]  https://americanaddictioncenters.org/adderall/long-term-effects/

[10]  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5569602/

[11]  https://www.epilepsybehavior.com/article/S1525-5050(13)00462-9/abstract

[12]  https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/fda-committee-recommends-first-cbd-oil-product-n867511

 

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