Spending on ADHD drugs ‘soars by two-thirds’

By Graeme Paton

The amount of money spent on prescriptions to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has soared by almost two-thirds in just four years, it has emerged.

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that some £31m of taxpayers’ money is now invested in drugs to treat the condition, which affects thousands of schoolchildren across Britain.

The disclosure will fuel fears that family doctors are coming under pressure to prescribe drugs such as Ritalin as a “quick fix” solution to ADHD when counselling, therapy and firm discipline would be a more suitable alternative.

In some cases, it is claimed that teachers are putting pressure on pupils or their parents to seek the medication as funding for more expensive solutions is cut.

Politicians and children’s charities have already warned that a generation of children risks becoming hooked on prescription drugs, creating more problems in later life.

According to figures, rising numbers of children have been diagnosed with ADHD, which causes poor concentration, hyperactivity and restlessness, since the mid-90s.

Government advisors have suggested that as many as one-in-11 children in Britain may suffer from the condition, despite claims that cases may be hugely inflated and can be the result of poor upbringing.

Figures obtained by the Guardian show that the amount of money spent on drugs to treat ADHD has increased by 65 per cent in four years. Researchers say the vast majority of these users are likely to be young people.

Tim Bown, assistant head teacher of Queens Park Community School, north west London, said: “Ideally, schools would prefer to offer intensive one-to-one support, but if the resources are limited, which they usually are, then we’re pushed into a choice between medication or exclusion.

“Hearing a student say that a drug ‘takes away his soul’ doesn’t sit comfortably with us as a school, but permanent exclusion doesn’t either.”

He said there was “no doubt” that behaviour became “more aggressive and disruptive” when a pupil came off medication.

Figures already show a huge year-on-year increase in drugs prescribed for depression, behaviour control and severe mental disorders among children.

Behaviour-altering drugs have soared ten-fold in a decade. These include Ritalin, for ADHD, and Modafinil, for daytime sleepiness. Academics say Modafinil is increasingly used by students to stay awake and boost short-term memory.

Prescriptions in this drug group for under-16s rose from 48,264 in 1996/97 to 454,797 in 2006/07. Among 16- to 18-year-olds in full-time education there was a rise from 2,058 to 40,339.

According to figures on anti-depressants, 109,535 prescriptions were made for under-16s in 2006/07, compared to 78,353 a decade ago.