ADHD Medication Use Rise among Adults, Especially Women

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric disorder of the neurodevelopmental type that develops in childhood and often continues into adulthood, making it difficult to get organized, stay focused, make realistic plans and think before acting. As per the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it affects a large number of children and adults in the U.S. and has become a serious public health concern. A recent research conducted by Express Scripts (a company that provides prescriptions to insurance carriers), involving the in-depth analysis of the most current trends in medication use for ADHD treating reveals that the number of Americans who took ADHD medications rose up to 36% (more than 4.8 million privately insured people) in 2012 during the five year study period (2008-2012). The study also found a rapid increase (85%) in medication use among women ages 26 to 34 than men, as opposed to the childhood trends where only half the number of girls took medications compared to boys.

The study examined the pharmacy claims of more than 400,000 individuals that filled at least one prescription for ADHD medication during the five year period and here are the major findings.

  • The number of adults on ADHD medication has been increasing at a faster pace with 53.4% in 2012, up from 18.9% in 2008.
  • While the number of males using ADHD medication plummeted after age 18, the medication use among women ages 19 to 25 was higher than that of girls ages 4 to 18.

ADHD Medication

  • The highest concentration of medication use was found in the South, with South Carolina having the highest prevalence of medication use (5.0% overall) and the lowest rates were found in the Western region of the U.S.
  • There is a higher rate of antipsychotic treatments among patients using ADHD medications compared to non-ADHD medication users. Even so, those high numbers have actually declined since 2009 among all age groups.
  • ADHD medication spending increased up to 14.2% in 2012, which is the largest increase seen in any traditional drug category. It is expected that the spending will increase by about 25% by 2015.

The study suggests the following reasons for the dramatic shift of increased medication use among women compared to their childhood days.

  • As women tend to present inattentive type of ADHD and do not display disruptive behavior in school, their symptoms are often overlooked in childhood. As they grow old, they become more aware of their symptoms and go to see a physician.
  • Less appropriate uses of medication may also be considered as a reason behind the increase in medication use among women. Stimulant medications are known to reduce appetite and are sometimes used as a weight-loss aid.
  • Certain women turn towards ADHD medications to keep up with the multiple demands on their time.

The study highlights the fact that more young women are being diagnosed with ADHD; the effectiveness of medications is still in question. First of all, there are few studies on how ADHD medication treatment affects adults. Though the stimulants prescribed for ADHD are generally safe for majority of patients, they have an addictive nature and may have several safety concerns (for example, increase in blood pressure, heart rate). They can be dangerous for patients having heart problems and may result in serious interactions with other medications and conditions including bipolar disorder. So physicians are required to encourage their patients for routine visits and fully evaluate the entire psychosocial landscape of a patient before prescribing medications. Family practice physicians can maintain accurate transcripts of their patients’ medical reports so that they can have a clear understanding of each patient’s condition and requirements.

Based on the reports, they can refer the patients to a psychiatrist or a neurologist as appropriate, who can prescribe medications suitably if necessary.