Sept. 16, 2005 -- The number of adults taking prescription drugs to treat ADHD more than doubled from 2000 to 2004, and women account for much of that growth, a new report shows.
The report comes from Medco Health Solutions, which manages prescription drug benefit programs. Medco analysts reviewed prescription data for more than 2 million people in the U.S.
Adult Use Rising
The growth in adult ADHD drug use outpaced increases in pediatric use by nearly 44%, notes Medco. Pediatric use was defined as use by patients aged 19 or younger.
The greatest growth in ADHD drug use was among adults aged 20-44.
Still, few adults used ADHD drugs.
"If we look at adults 20-44 in the year 2000, about 0.5% of adults that we cover filled one prescription or more during that year. And then in the year 2004, it was roughly 1%. That's a doubling, or a 100% increase," Robert Epstein, MD, MS, tells WebMD.
Epstein is Medco's chief medical officer.
Growing Up With ADHD
Some of the growth in ADHD drug use among young adults may be because patients keep using the drugs as they enter their 20s.
"We actually think that's part of what's happening here," Epstein says. Epstein is Medco's chief medical officer.
"The old common wisdom that you outgrow ADHD has been recognized as not necessarily to be true," says Epstein. "There are some studies that are suggesting that about 50% of children continue to have the problem into adulthood."
More Women Using ADHD Drugs
ADHD drug use grew more among women than men in every age group studied, the survey shows.
Growth in ADHD drug use more than doubled for women aged 20-44 and 45-64. The largest increase -- 113% -- was seen in women aged 20-44.
Here are Medco's figures on growth in ADHD drug use by age and sex:
- 0-19 years: up 82% for girls and 49% for boys
- 20-44: up 113% for women and 92% for men
- 45-64: up 104% for women and 49% for men
- 65 and older: up 25% for women and 6% for men
The study focuses on growth in ADHD use. So is the greater growth in women due to the fact that more men were already taking ADHD drugs?
"That's a hard one to answer. I'm not sure," says Epstein.
"Some people are saying that maybe there's a recognition that little girls don't have the hyperactivity component [and] don't get diagnosed as children. But then when they go on to college or work or interpersonal relationships then the other symptoms become evident enough that someone's making the diagnosis."
"It's not like you suddenly get ADHD as an adult," says Epstein. "You've always had it; it was unrecognized when you were young. And we think the reason for females is because they just don't manifest the hyperactivity the way the boys do."
The CDC recently weighed in on ADHD trends among boys and girls -- but not adults. The CDC reported that ADHD is more often diagnosed among boys than girls but that rates of ADHD medication use were similar for boys and girls diagnosed with ADHD.
Medco's survey tracks prescription drug use, not medical diagnoses of ADHD.
"These are very specific drugs. Certainly the majority of the use of these drugs is for ADHD," Epstein tells WebMD.
He says Medco is checking to see if it can tease out data on ADHD use by students as study aides and whether ADHD drug use spiked among women after the topic came up in an episode of Desperate Housewives.