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ADHD Medication Use Held Steady in Recent Years

Science Update

The results of a study conducted by researchers at the Agency of Healthcare Research Quality and the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Mental Health indicate that the prevalence of stimulant use among U.S. children for treating symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) remained relatively constant between 1997 and 2002. The report appears in the April 2006 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.


The researchers analyzed data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), an annual, nationally representative survey of American households conducted by the U.S. Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. More than 7,000 children were included in each of the five years studied.

Stimulant use among U.S. children ages 18 and younger had increased sharply from 0.6 percent in 1987 to 2.7 percent in 1997. By 2002, however, the estimated use was only 2.9 percent, suggesting that the rate of use has leveled off. Use was highest among 6- to 12-year-olds (4.8 percent), and lowest among children under 6 years old (0.3 percent). The low rate among preschoolers was also the most stable, countering fears that preschoolers' use of ADHD medications is escalating.

Use of stimulants continued to be more prevalent among white male children, although use by black children increased from 1.2 percent in 1997 to 2.2 percent in 2002. Also, use was more prevalent in the South and Midwest regions than in the Northeast and Western regions.

Other characteristics such as family income level, type of health insurance (e.g., public or private) or living in an urban or rural setting did not affect the overall rate of use. However, those without health insurance were much less likely to be using stimulant medication (0.3 percent in 2002). In addition, children who were identified as being "functionally impaired" by their disorder were much more likely to be taking stimulants than those children not characterized as such. But the prevalence of ADHD medication use among both impaired and unimpaired children did not change from 1997 to 2002.

ADHD medications included in the survey were methylphenidate (Ritalin), dexmethylphenidate (Focalin), pemoline (Cylert), amphetamine (Adderall) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Dextrostat).

Samuel H. Zuvekas, Ph.D., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; Benedetto Vitiello, M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health; and Grayson S. Norquist, M.D., MSPH, of the University of Mississippi Medical Center were authors of the study.

Zuvekas SH, Vitiello B, Norquist GS. Recent Trends in Stimulant Medication use Among U.S. Children.  American Journal of Psychiatry. 2006. 163: 586-593.