ADD and ADHD Medication Concerns

Is ADD and ADHD medication really the best option?

Although no chemical imbalance has ever been proven, health professionals prescribe stimulant medication (such as Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, Vyvanse, Focalin, Metadate, Dexedrine, Daytrana) as the primary treatment in correcting the “chemical imbalance” of ADD and ADHD.

The annual number of prescribed ADD/ADHD stimulant drugs in the United States increased 39% between 2007 (34.8 million) and 2011 (48.4 million). Most dispensed ADD/ADHD stimulant prescriptions were in the states of the South, Midwest, and Northeast. (See the DEA’s report onADD/ADHD Stimulants, 2007-2011)

These drugs are not without serious risk. In February of 2006, an FDA advisory panel recommended the most serious warning label (i.e., “black box” safety warning) for these ADHD medications, due to an increased risk for severe cardiovascular problems in adults and children. Studies have shown an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure (hypertension), and abnormal heart beat (arrhythmia). Between 2005 and 2010, the number of emergency room visits from ADHD medications rose from just over 13,000 to a staggering 31,000.

Very high doses of psychostimulants, particularly of amphetamines, may cause central nervous system damage, cardiovascular damage, and hypertension. In addition, high doses have been associated with compulsive behaviors and, in certain vulnerable individuals, movement disorders. There is a rare percentage of children and adults treated at high doses who have hallucinogenic responses. Drugs used for ADHD other than psychostimulants have their own adverse reactions: tricyclic antidepressants may induce cardiac arrhythmias, bupropion at high doses can cause seizures, and pemoline is associated with liver damage. Diagnosis and Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, National Institute of Health

With the known side effects of these drugs and without knowledge or evidence of long-term results on growth and development, is medication really the best option?

Parents should know that the stimulants prescribed for ADD/ADHD help all people ― with or without an ADD/ADHD diagnosis ― to concentrate and focus attention more easily. Just as there are doctors who provide steroids to athletes, there are doctors prescribing stimulants to struggling students to help boost their academic performance. Read Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School. 

Middle school, high school, and college students who take ADD/ADHD medication often sell, share, or trade their drugs ― a felony as these stimulants are classified as Class II drugs (along with cocaine, morphine, codeine, heroin, oxycodone). Read Harvard on Speed.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a study of students in Wisconsin and Minnesota showed 34% of ADHD youth, ages 11-18, report being approached to sell or trade their medicines. The drugs are used for studying and test-taking but also for staying awake, weight loss, and to get high (crushing and snorting the pills gives a cocaine-like rush). Read Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill.

Many parents do not realize that if their child takes Ritalin or other stimulant medication past the age of 14, that child is not eligible to serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, or National Guard. A waiver may be issued after a doctor has signed a paper stating that the person has been off the medication for four years and the individual goes through a strict evaluation process.

Also, if a person uses ADHD stimulant medication, the state or federal government cannot hire him or her if the job involves state secrets or national security, because that child is a Class II drug user.

It is usually the school that approaches parents to have an assessment for ADD/ADHD and parents often feel pressured in having the traditional drug treatment to ‘correct’ their child’s behavior. However, there are so many concerns surrounding the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD and these medications that parents must be knowledgeable and cautious.

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