Even as prescriptions for attention-deficit medication have soared, it's unclear that kids today are any more distracted than they were 30 years ago.
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There's a fascinating new paper out this week by researchers from the Food and Drug Administration on the kinds of prescription medications given to children between 2002 and 2010. Among the findings: prescriptions for anti-depressants actually declined five percent over the study period. Birth control was up more than 90 percent. And orders for asthma drugs increased 14 percent.
But one of the most interesting results is the remarkable rise in medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. From 2002 to 2010, prescriptions for the disorder jumped 43 percent.
The authors of the paper don't speculate as to the causes for shifts in prescription drug usage, although one doctor with the American Psychiatric Association told Reuters Health he thinks cultural reasons may be behind the trend in ADHD treatment:
"For the most part I think the overall increase reflects a reduction in the stigma," he told Reuters Health. "It used to be, 'You're a bad parent if you can't get your child to behave, and you're a doubly bad parent if you put them on medicine.'"
Of course, just because we're prescribing more Ritalin doesn't mean ADHD has necessarily worsened in America. As pressure on schoolkids has grown more intense, so has the phenomenon of using attention-deficit drugs for off-label purposes. Every year, doctors issue 21 million prescriptions of Ritalin, Adderall, and other focus medications that are meant to treat ADHD, but that in many cases find their way into the hands of students simply seeking an edge in the classroom.