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ADHD in Children Health Center

Experts: Don't Give ADHD Meds to Undiagnosed Kids

Neurologists say some doctors are prescribing these drugs as a way to boost school performance
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Barbara Bronson Gray

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 13 (HealthDay News) -- Some people call it "brain doping" or "meducation." Others label the problem "neuroenhancement." Whatever the term, the American Academy of Neurology has published a position paper criticizing the practice of prescribing "study drugs" to boost memory and thinking abilities in healthy children and teens.

The authors said physicians are prescribing drugs that are typically used for children and teenagers diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for students solely to improve their ability to ace a critical exam -- such as the college admission SAT -- or to get better grades in school.

Dr. William Graf, lead author of the paper and a professor of pediatrics and neurology at Yale School of Medicine, emphasized that the statement doesn't apply to the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Rather, he is concerned about what he calls "neuroenhancement in the classroom."

The problem is similar to that caused by performance-boosting drugs that have been used in sports by such athletic luminaries as Lance Armstrong and Mark McGwire, he explained. "One is about [enhancing] muscles and the other is about enhancing brains," Graf said.

In children and teens, the use of drugs to improve academic performance raises issues including the potential long-term effect of medications on the developing brain, the distinction between normal and abnormal intellectual development, the question of whether it is ethical for parents to force their children to take drugs just to improve their academic performance, and the risks of overmedication and chemical dependency, Graf noted.

The rapidly rising numbers of children and teens taking ADHD drugs calls attention to the problem, Graf said. "The number of physician office visits for ADHD management and the number of prescriptions for stimulants and psychotropic medications for children and adolescents has increased 10-fold in the U.S. over the last 20 years," he pointed out.

Recent parent surveys show about a 22 percent increase in ADHD, a 42 percent rise in the disorder among older teens and a 53 percent increase among Hispanic children, according to the paper.

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