Scores of recent studies have outlined the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which has become the most common neurobehavioral disorder in children. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed just how many children are being diagnosed with ADHD, and subsequently getting prescribed ADHD medication, such as Ritalin and Adderall.

"This finding raises concerns about whether these children and their families are receiving needed services," said Dr. Michael Lu, senior administrator of the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA).

Children affected by ADHD tend to have trouble controlling impulsive behaviors and paying attention. Symptoms of ADHD include day dreaming, a tendency to forget or lose belongings, talking too much, careless mistakes, squirming or fidgeting, and an inability to resist temptation, take turns, or get along with other children. Two forms of treatment are recommended for children diagnosed with ADHD, including a mental health examination and ADHD medication.

According to findings from the CDC, the amount of children diagnosed with ADHD increased by 42 percent between 2003 to 2004 and 2011 to 1012. Of these, 11 percent were adolescents and young adults, ages 4 to 17. The total number of people with an ADHD diagnosis in the U.S. is now 6.4 million. Between 2007 to 2008 and 2011 to 2012, the amount of children taking medication for ADHD also saw a significant increase — 28 percent. Around six percent of Americans under the age of 17 receive medication for ADHD, equaling just over 3.5 million children in the U.S.

"This finding suggests that there are a large number of young children who could benefit from the early initiation of behavioral therapy, which is recommended as the first-line treatment for preschool children with ADHD," said the CDC's Susanna Visser, who also lead the study.

Visser and her colleagues from the CDC used data from the 2011 to 2012 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) to conduct their analysis. The research team also revealed just how early children were being diagnosed with the condition. Half of the children affected by ADHD are diagnosed by the age of 6; however, children with more severe cases of ADHD tend to be diagnosed by the age of 4. Seven out of every 10 children diagnosed with ADHD are also prescribed a related medication, making it the most common form of ADHD treatment.

In a recent position paper published by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), doctors and parents were warned about the dangers of overprescribing medications, such as Adderall or Ritalin. This type of drug is the most prescribed in the U.S. and are recognized as Schedule II narcotics, putting them in the same category as Oxycontin and morphine. Health risks have been reported in individuals prescribed ADHD medication including a rise in blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and seizures.

"Doctors caring for children and teens have a professional obligation to always protect the best interests of the child, to protect vulnerable populations, and prevent the misuse of medication," said Dr. William Graf, professor at Yale University and member of the AAN. "The physician should talk to the child about the request, as it may reflect other medical, social, or psychological motivations such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia.”

Source: Danielson M, Bitsko R, Holbrook J, et al. Trends in the Parent-Report of Health Care Provider-Diagnosed and Medicated Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: United States, 2003–2011. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2013.