Figures show 16% rise in AD/HD cases since 2007.

A front-page New York Times analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a sharp increase in the numbers of US children being diagnosed for the first time with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). The figures indicate a 16% increase in AD/HD cases diagnosed since 2007 alone. In addition to the New York Times, one network news segment, numerous print publications and medical journals focus on the story, many of them questioning if overdiagnosis is behind the increased number of cases, and others concentrating on the fact that some medications for AD/HD may be misused or abused.

NBC Nightly News (4/1, story 2, 2:25, Williams, 7.86M) reported, “A stunning new assessment of national numbers came out today. … It’s about “the extraordinary number of cases” of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) now being diagnosed.” New figures “show a 16% rise in cases just since 2007,” begging the question whether the condition is being overdiagnosed.

On its front page, the New York Times (4/1, A1, Schwarz, Cohen, Subscription Publication, 1.68M) reported, “Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” The data indicate that “an estimated 6.4 million children ages four through 17 had received an AD/HD diagnosis at some point in their lives.” Approximately “two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin [methylphenidate] or Adderall [amphetamine, dextroamphetamine mixed salts], which can drastically improve the lives of those with AD/HD, but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.” For his part, CD Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, “likened the rising rates of stimulant prescriptions among children to the overuse of pain medications and antibiotics in adults.”

The New York Daily News (4/2, Miller, 543K) reports, “The findings come from a cellphone and landline survey of more than 76,000 parents between February 2011 and June 2012.” Currently, “the American Psychiatric Association estimates in its…diagnostic manual that 3 to 7% of children have AD/HD, though other studies have calculated higher rates.” Dr. Xavier Castellanos, professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Child Study Center, NYU Langone Medical Center, said, “Many of these kids probably do have AD/HD, but my guess is that in some cases it is not the most appropriate or fitting diagnosis and that some things are being left out.”

The Deseret (UT) News (4/2, Baker, 105K) reports, “Doctors are concerned that the AD/HD diagnosis is overused, the Times said, and some say the rising number of diagnoses suggests that millions may be taking the medications to calm behavior and improve school performance.” Currently, “there is no single test to diagnose AD/HD, according to the CDC. Psychiatrists look for patterns of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity before making a subjective judgment about the diagnosis.”

The Huffington Post (4/1, Pearson) reports, “The New York Times report on the CDC figures is not the only one in recent months to suggest that AD/HD diagnoses are on the rise. A January study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that relied on electronic records from 5 to 11 year olds treated at Kaiser Permanente in California found that the rate at which kids are being diagnosed with the disorder has increased by almost 25 percent in the past decade.” Now, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, AD/HD is “one of the most common childhood disorders.”

MedPage Today (4/2, Neale) reports, “The rise in diagnosis rates has been seen in other datasets, as well, and it may accelerate when the American Psychiatric Association releases the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) at its annual meeting in May.” In fact, “some of the proposed changes would open up the diagnosis of AD/HD to a greater number of children.”

Frieden: AD/HD medication misuse seems to be “growing at an alarming rate.” The CBS News (4/2, Castillo) website quotes CDC Director Frieden, who said, “The right medications for AD/HD, given to the right people, can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate.” Frieden called for the “need to ensure balance.”

In light of the potential for medication abuse for AD/HD and possible causes behind that, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (4/2, Downey, 263K) “Get Schooled” blog asks, “Are we over-diagnosing attention-deficit/hyperactivity [disorder], especially in boys, because we have less tolerance of what were once understood and accepted as normal kid behaviors? Have we become a nation that spots a fidgety five-year-old and thinks a pill is the answer?” And, “are parents buying the pharmaceutical industry’s promise that it can turn a restless student into a focused scholar?”

Related Links:

— “A.D.H.D. Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise, “Alan Schwarz , The New York Times, April 1, 2013.

Posted in In The News.