The Ritalin Effect (ADHD)
This week is ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) awareness week. Ritalin (methylphenidate) has become a regular treatment for hyperactivity across America and the U.K. Ritalin’s popularity amongst doctors has increased to such an extent that one in seven American children under the age of 18 is regularly taking a medication like Ritalin to treat their ADHD. But what do we know about the effects of Ritalin for ADHD?
In the UK, sales of Ritalin are on the increase year on year. Recent figures show that prescriptions for Ritalin have increased from 158,000 in 1999, to 661,463 in 2010. Children as young as 3 years are taking this powerful stimulant. These statistics are worrying, considering that many long side effects have yet to be discovered.
General and common side effects that are associated with this type of medicines are sleep disturbances, nervousness, night terrors, skin problems, anxiety, irritability and dependence. These medicines can also cause growth retardation in children.
Lethal side effects such as suicidal thoughts and psychosis become more common when children take prolonged and high doses of these medications. Tragically, there have been a number of deaths related to children, especially boys, taking Ritalin. The Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) has seen a worrying trend as its members are noting Ritalin dosages continue to increase.
A statement from the AEP said, “The benefits of psycho-stimulant medication are not sustainable over the long term, necessitating stronger and stronger dosages,’ it said, adding that it was becoming, “common practice for children to be prescribed stronger dosages than recommended in the morning as a “kick-start” so medication lasts the school day”.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that Ritalin should not be prescribed to pre-school children. However, health experts are seeing this ruling being widely ignored across the country.
The British Psychological Society (BPS), through Peter Kinderman issued a statement saying that children are being prescribed medication as a quick fix rather than being given a full assessment. “These assessments and psychological therapies may take longer and cost more but ultimately are better in the long run”, said Peter Kinderman.
There have been many studies that question the effectiveness of Ritalin and similar drugs. Studies show that placebo treatments are as effective as these drugs in the treatment of ADHD, without causing these terrifying side effects.
This trend towards increased prescribing of Ritalin and similar types of drugs is a worrying trend that we may not fully see the effects of for a few years yet. There are more than half a million children and teenagers in the UK that are taking these stimulant medications, which are altering the chemical balance in their brains. Rather than simply write prescriptions for these drugs, more should be done to look at how children behave, their nutritional intake and their family dynamics.
The effects of this are yet to be fully understood, but with the increase in the number of adults taking anti-depressant medications, are we witnessing a terrifying epidemic?