The increase in pediatric stimulant use since 1996 mostly linked to treatment of ADHD in adolescents
Research Activities, December 2011, No. 376
Pediatric use of stimulant medication, the first line of treatment for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), increased slowly over the most recent 12 years for which data is available, according to a new study. Stimulant use grew from 2.9 percent of United States children in 1996 to 3.5 percent in 2008. Among the estimated 2.8 million children under age 19 taking stimulants for ADHD, growth in stimulant use was highest for adolescents (13-18 years old), growing 6.5 percent annually, from 2.3 percent of this age group in 1996 to 5.0 percent in 2008.
Samuel H. Zuvekas, Ph.D., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and Benedetto Vitiello, M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health, point out that the highest rate of use was still among younger school-age children (6-12 years old), rising from 4.2 percent in 1996 to 5.1 percent in 2008. However, this was not a significant rise in stimulant use. For children under 6 years old, prescription stimulant use remained low, declining to 0.1 percent after 2004. Stimulant use for ADHD in 2008 was consistently highest among non-Hispanic white children (4.4 percent) compared to black and Hispanic children (3.0 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively).
Although the rate of prescribed stimulant usage increased for girls between 1996 and 2008, usage by boys remained three times greater than for girls, consistent with greater prevalence of ADHD among boys. Usage varied considerably across the United States in 2008 as well, with highest use in the northeastern States (4.6 percent) and lowest use in the western States (1.6 percent). Data for the study was drawn from AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) covering the years 1996 through 2008. The MEPS sample is representative of the civilian noninstitutionalized population for each year. The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS16964).
More details are in "Stimulant medication use among U.S. children: A twelve-year perspective" by Drs. Zuvekas and Vitiello in the September 2011 American Journal of Psychiatry (Epub ahead of print). Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 12-015) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.