Who Isn’t on Ritalin These Days?

The ADHD Epidemic

Use of Adderall and Ritalin is exploding so fast that almost everybody is going to be taking them before you know it.  This is true, because I saw it on the BoysInternet. There is an epidemic of ADHD sweeping the United States, evidenced by an epidemic of news reports about this epidemic.

Who IS on ADHD Medication?

Esquire, “The Drugging of the American Boy“:

“Boys are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed as girls—15.1 percent to 6.7 percent. By high school, even more boys are diagnosed—nearly one in five…And overall, two thirds are on prescription drugs.”

New York Times, “A.D.H.D. Experts Re-evaluate Study’s Zeal for Drugs“:

“More than 1 in 7 children in the United States receive a diagnosis of the disorder by the time they turn 18, according to the CDC…At least 70 percent of those are prescribed stimulant medication.”

Forbes, “ADHD: The High Price Of A Quick, Quick Fix“:

The number of children on medication for ADHD has grown to 3.5 million.” 

So, let’s run some calculations on those numbers. Esquire implied that 13.3% of high school boys are on ADHD medications.  The NY Times implied that 10% of children are on stimulants. Forbes estimated that 7% of US children are medicated.

Who Is NOT on ADHD Medication?

Now let’s look at some data that hasn’t been in the news. A survey of insurance databases from one month–March, 2008–found that 2.5% of US children (and 0.6% of adults) filled a prescription that month for ADHD.  That was 3.5% of boys and 1.5% of girls.

Sorry to drag you all through so much data.  Just a bit more here.  The percentage of children estimated to actually have ADHD runs from 5 to 8%. With all these statistics in hand, we can finally answer the original question of who isn’t on ADHD medications:

97.5% of US children are not on ADHD medications.

50 to 80% of US children with ADHD are not on medications.

87% of US adults with ADHD are not on ADHD medications.

If you, like me, agree that ADHD medications are useful for a small proportion of the population, these numbers won’t strike you as outlandish.  And if you, like me, work every day with people who need treatment for ADHD, you will still probably find plenty of opportunity to fret over who does and who doesn’t benefit from medication every working day.

Timely and Informative Press Alerts

Thank goodness the Press has breathlessly arrived on the scene to helpfully alert us to the ADHD Epidemic. They pretend to have uncovered a Gravely Important Problem to which the medical mainstream is oblivious.

Except that the American Academy of Pediatrics noticed a 15% diagnosis rate and offered an array of suggestions in their own article “What to do about the ADHD epidemic“.  The article was published without hysterics in 2003, and much research has been directed at clarifying the issues.

Attracting Attention

The problem of accurate diagnosis and effective treatment is just as important now as 11 years ago. Figuring out who how much hyperactivity is abnormal in a young boy is a hard call. Teachers wonder if it is a lack of control or attention-seeking behavior. Talking more than one should, jumping to the first conclusion that pops into one’s head, blurting out assertions that may or may not be true, and saying things without concern for consequences might be signs of ADHD.

Or they might be signs that you reportfor a news outlet that sells copy by sensationalizing complex issues.   It’s hard to find a single point of clarity that these reporters have added to this discussion, but they clearly have learned how to attract attention.

Congratulations to the Press, nonetheless, for their scoop on this 11 year-old news!

Physician specializing in diagnosis and management of attention deficit disorders and related conditions.

Posted in ADD, ADHD, diagnosis, epidemic, medications
10 comments on “Who Isn’t on Ritalin These Days?
  1. chaddgr says:

    Thanks for standing up for individuals and families who search their souls before deciding to “label” their child, and get them diagnosed, let alone put them on “mind altering drugs.” Even after having had their child diagnosed, parents often say they waited two years before deciding to try their child on medication. How long must they wait? How great a price are we willing to pay? We need accurate diagnosis, not less diagnosis, –and responsible journalism.


  2. Dale Thorley says:

    Excellent article. Hit the nail on the head. We need a lot less sensational reporting in the media resulting in the labelling of people, more accurate ADHD diagnosis & treatment and a lot more empathy for the people with ADHD.


  3. […] on April 22, 2014 by Oren Mason — 1 […]


  4. Richard TenHoor says:

    It is helpful to get the true statistics about ADHD in this article to combat the misinformation about ADHD.

    Liked by 1 person

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Oren Mason MD
Oren Mason MD

Oren Mason MD

Physician specializing in diagnosis and management of attention deficit disorders and related conditions.

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