Don’t Give ADHD Meds To Undiagnosed Kids

English: A child not paying attention in class.

I have been preaching this for years, since reading a Reader’s Digest (of all things) survey of schools in Canada who were pushing for meds for kids who were disciplinary issues. Confirmation from WebMD.

Some people call it “brain doping” or “meducation.” Others label the problem “neuroenhancement.” Whatever the term, the American Academy of Neurology has published a position paper criticizing the practice of prescribing “study drugs” to boost memory and thinking abilities in healthy children and teens.

The authors said physicians are prescribing drugs that are typically used for children and teenagers diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for students solely to improve their ability to ace a critical exam — such as the college admission SAT — or to get better grades in school.

Dr. William Graf, lead author of the paper and a professor of pediatrics and neurology at Yale School of Medicine, emphasized that the statement doesn’t apply to the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Rather, he is concerned about what he calls “neuroenhancement in the classroom.”

The problem is similar to that caused by performance-boosting drugs that have been used in sports by such athletic luminaries as Lance Armstrong and Mark McGwire, he explained. “One is about [enhancing] muscles and the other is about enhancing brains,” Graf said.

In children and teens, the use of drugs to improve academic performance raises issues including the potential long-term effect of medications on the developing brain, the distinction between normal and abnormal intellectual development, the question of whether it is ethical for parents to force their children to take drugs just to improve their academic performance, and the risks of overmedication and chemical dependency, Graf noted.

The rapidly rising numbers of children and teens taking ADHD drugs calls attention to the problem, Graf said. “The number of physician office visits for ADHD management and the number of prescriptions for stimulants and psychotropic medications for children and adolescents has increased 10-fold in the U.S. over the last 20 years,” he pointed out.

Recent parent surveys show about a 22 percent increase in ADHD, a 42 percent rise in the disorder among older teens and a 53 percent increase among Hispanic children, according to the paper.

While Graf acknowledged that the data about rising numbers associated with ADHD includes a number of cases that have been appropriately diagnosed as ADHD, he said the increase — especially among older adolescents — suggests a problem of overdiagnosis and overmedication.

“We should be more cautious with healthy children in treating them with drugs they don’t need,” he said. “The ethical balance tips against overuse and toward caution because children are still growing and developing and there’s a lot we don’t know.”

The position paper, published online March 13 in the journal Neurology, was also approved by the Child Neurology Society and the American Neurological Association.

Dr. Mark Wolraich, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and chairman of the subcommittee that wrote ADHD guidelines for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that his group was not consulted in the development of the position paper Graf developed. Wolraich noted that the AAP also did not recommend the use of stimulant medications for performance enhancement or pleasure.

9 thoughts on “Don’t Give ADHD Meds To Undiagnosed Kids

  1. Curious – have you found any statistics on how frequently this is actually happening? Our son took ADHD meds for 18 months, and there’s no way our doc would have prescribed them without thorough testing and the recommendation of a behavioral therapist. As an aside, we live in an extremely affluent suburb where pressure on kids to succeed in ALL arenas is intense. The thought that parents and doctors would approve of such an egregious use of a controlled substance makes me furious. These meds are not innocuous…when our doc recommended that our son go off his Adderol short-term to try and get to the bottom of circulation problems he was having, son discovered he liked himself a whole lot better off the meds (we liked him better, too, though he’s significantly more active and loud off meds than on). Because he’d matured quite a bit and learned coping strategies, we supported him when he chose to discontinue his meds permanently.

  2. Reblogged this on All Things Substance Abuse Counseling and commented:
    This is a great article. I just to want to add that misdiagnosed kids on ADHD medication, and self-diagnosed teens and adolescents on ADHD medication, are two different problems. Little kids don’t make the decision themselves to go see a doctor to get ADHD meds; their parents take them! All human beings find it easier to blame others for things that are not going right in their lives. It is not surprising that some parents do this with their children. I will not deny the possibility that ADHD is a real disorder, but it is also a reality that some parents find it easier to make their children responsible for the chaos in their lives. Children’s behavior is that, children’s behavior and it is strongly influenced by the people and environment around them. Do not expect them to behave like adults. If you are a parent, or know a parent, who feels overwhelmed because of all this things they have to do for work, plus all the things they need to do at home, and maybe all the things they need to do for school because they are still in college, or decided to go back to college, and in addition they have to take care of their kid(s) but they can’t handle it when the children have lots of energy and want to play all day, or get their parents attention every 2 minutes…if your/their answer is YES to one or more of these statements, and “this situation is driving me crazy!” is a recurring thought, then the parent is the one with the problem and the one in need of treatment, not their children.

    To all the health professioanls out there prescribing ADHD medication to children brought in by their overwhelmed parents, and to teens/adolescents faking the symptoms, please remember that one pill will not take care of all the bio-psycho-social-spiritual issues in these youngsters lives.

  3. I have been against ADHD medication for quite some time. It’s basically crank. There was a time where I felt like any time a child was sent to a doctor for behavior issues, he was diagnosed and put on medication. I realize there is a small % who may need this drug, but it was over diagnosed at one point and now it sounds like it is easier to get it for other treatment as well. Now there are young adults coming in to a twelve step program cause they cannot kick the prescription meds.
    Twelve years ago, my son’s teacher recommended my child be treated for ADHD and I nearly knocked her out. She could tell by my expression that it was the wrong thing to say to me.
    So glad I was not easily convinced. My adult son now uses his creativity as an impact on his drive for success.
    Diagnosed or not, get rid of this medication!

  4. Right. They can all wind up like that pre-med kid who got addicted to aderall and then killed himself. He did not have ADHD and lied about having the symptoms.

  5. It’s tragic, as children who desperately need a diagnosis and medication to be able to succeed in school and function better socially often aren’t treated as their parents are afraid of acknowledging the problem or risking medication. I hear again and again from parents that they won’t take their child to a psychiatrist because they don’t want medication for their child: as if going to a doctor means you will be forced to follow a single treatment protocol. But children who don’t need are given it anyway.

  6. I had seen this article also and am saddened that health-care providers need to be told not to give these drugs to undiagnosed children. Shouldn’t that be obvious?? I believe there was also a statement in the report that said, in effect, it might be okay to give these drugs to adults who have not been diagnosed with ADHD. What’s going on here? craziness!!

  7. I feel strongly about this issue. Meds should be only used when there is a proper diagnosis, and that is the bottom line. Shame on any physician or parent who pushes the boundaries otherwise.

  8. I think it’s disgusting what the establishment is doing to children bordering a crime against humanity…the great experiment that will bite us in the arse in the future…

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