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As ADHD numbers skyrocket, surge of questions and costs too

Updated

ADHD diagnoses—and the associated healthcare costs—are skyrocketing, leading many to question the diagnoses and purpose of medicating children for the disorder.

From Monday’s New York Times:

The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 53 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.

“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He added, “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.”


“It’s unbelievable how quickly they try to dispense that stuff,” Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough said of doctors giving out prescriptions to treat ADHD. “We have a nation of children who are addicted to prescription drugs and they’re dying.”

Co-host Mika Brzezinski commented that many of her children’s peers are taking drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to aid their academic performance. Studies say that as much as 30% of these prescription pills given to diagnosed kids go to friends.

“These kids take this stuff for ADD and ADHD on test day, and they start getting used to medicating for events—for academic events. It’s become a part of their lives,” she said.

Along with these skyrocketing diagnoses and prescriptions come skyrocketing costs, too.

In 2005, when 5% of children were diagnosed with ADHD, the annual societal “cost of illness” for ADHD was estimated to be between $36 and $52 billion. Today, with 11% of children are diagnosed with ADHD, adding to increasingly high  healthcare costs even more.

In his state of the union address, the president stressed the importance of brain research—alluding to his plan to map the human brain, which was later detailed in the New York Times. The project is expected to cost billions and reportedly will appear in the president’s budget next week. Some doctors hope research like this could alleviate over-diagnosis and surging mental health costs by increasing doctor’s understanding of the disorders.

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As ADHD numbers skyrocket, surge of questions and costs too

Updated