Doctors warn about the ethical and medical implications of prescribing
attention-boosting and mood-altering medications to healthy kids and teens, in a
new statement from the American Academy of Neurology.
Focusing on stimulants typically used to treat attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, researchers said the number of diagnoses and
prescriptions have risen dramatically over the past two decades.
Young people with the disorder clearly benefit from treatment, lead author Dr
William Graf emphasised, but the medicines are increasingly being used by
healthy youth who believe they will enhance their concentration and performance
Legal and illegal drugs
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1.7% of eighth graders and
7.6% of 12th graders have used Adderall, a stimulant, for nonmedical
Some of those misused medicines are bought on the street or from peers with
prescriptions; others may be obtained legally from doctors.
"What we're saying is that because of the volume of drugs and the incredible
increase the possibility of over diagnosis and over treatment is clearly there,"
said Graf, from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
In their statement he and his colleagues say doctors should not give
prescriptions to teens who ask for medication to enhance concentration against
their parents' advice.
Prescribing attention- or mood-enhancing drugs to healthy kids and teens in
general cannot be justified, for both legal and developmental reasons, Graf and
his co-authors conclude.
"You're giving amphetamines to kids. I think we have to be worried about how
that affects the brain, mood, rational thought and we don't have enough data
about that yet," he said.
Almut Winterstein, a pharmacy researcher from the University of Florida in
Gainesville, agreed that not much is known about the effects of long-term
stimulant use - another reason to be careful and make sure they're really
necessary for a specific child.
In the short term, stimulants increase heart rate and blood pressure."If you
have a child who actually can sit still and doesn't seem to have a problem
focusing on a task, a stimulant won't do a thing, and definitely won't improve
school performance," said Winterstein, who didn't work on the new statement.
"I am concerned personally that many parents believe that if their child
doesn't do well in school, they must have ADHD," and therefore need stimulants,
Graf noted that childhood is changing in the United States: kids are being
challenged in school, but also spending more and more time in front of
"The majority still has to agree that we're not going to give a pill for
every problem in childhood," he said. "We're talking about healthy kids."