Prescriptions for ‘chemical cosh’ drugs to treat hyperactivity have risen almost nine-fold, with claims that children as young as three are taking them. The number of drugs prescriptions to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has leapt from 92,100 in 1997 to 786,400 last year, say NHS figures. It is feared that youngsters are being given them instead of more expensive counselling and other treatments.
Some parents are also believed to be pressurising GPs for drugs to help boost performance at school.
Epidemic: Ritalin is now being prescribed to young children as parents worry about their behaviour in school. Psychologists yesterday demanded tougher regulations and a significant reduction in the prescription of psychotropic drugs, including Ritalin. Health guidelines say they should not be given to children under six. Symptoms of ADHD include an inability to concentrate and restless or impulsive behavior.
Experts claim that cuts in funding for recommended treatment, including counselling, are leading to increased prescriptions.The British Psychological Society’s division of educational and child psychology yesterday held a one-day summit in Manchester to discuss rising concerns about the ‘medicalisation of childhood’.
Ritalin – or methylphenidate hydrochloride – is among a number of so-called ‘chemical coshes’ used to treat ADHD. It can cause nausea, fatigue and mood swings and has been linked to suicides.
Medication: There are fears that doctors are prescribing drugs because they are easier than other treatments
National guidelines in England and Wales say children with ADHD should receive ‘comprehensive’ treatment, including psychological, behavioural and educational help. But Vivian Hill, chairman of the BPS’s medicalisation of childhood working group, said that this did not always happen. Budgets have been cut and psychiatrists feel they can’t follow the official guidelines, which recommend therapy before drugs.
‘Often, the first response now is to issue drugs, not offer therapeutic help.’ Sbe estimates ‘hundreds’ of children under six, some as young as three, are being given drugs, which might have little impact without other therapy.
A study last year by the Association of Educational Psychologists found more than 100 children under six on Ritalin in the West Midlands – a trend ‘reaffirmed’ nationwide. A spokesman for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which advises the NHS on treatment, said drugs have a role to play, but psychotherapy is central to managing ADHD. He added: ‘These drugs are not recommended as first-line treatments for young people with mild or moderate ADHD. They are recommended as first-line therapy for school-age children and young people with severe ADHD.’
Barbara Sahakian, a professor of clinical neuropsychology at Cambridge University, said last night: ‘I have had psychiatrists tell me that sometimes they don’t feel that the child is sufficiently severe [enough] for requiring a drug treatment and they think psychological treatment might be sufficient.
‘But the parents are quite keen they should have a drug. Parents know these drugs are cognitive enhancing, so I guess they’re trying to get an advantage for the child.’
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