Hyperactive UK: warning as ADHD drug prescription rates soar 50 per cent in five years

Doctors worldwide urged to be 'conservative' when diagnosing condition

Health Reporter

Doctors using broader definitions of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, risk prescribing "unnecessary and possibly harmful treatment" to their patients, experts have warned.

Prescription rates for ADHD drugs such as Ritalin have soared in the UK in recent years, from 420,000 in 2007 to 657,000 in 2012. The condition, the symptoms of which include a short attention span and restlessness, is believed to affect between two and five per cent of school-age children.

However, in a study published in the British Medical Journal today, researchers from the Bond University in Australia point out that the clinical definition of ADHD has been expanded in recent years and urge doctors to be "conservative" when diagnosing the condition.

To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child or adult must meet diagnostic criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a new edition of which was published last year, or in the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases guidelines.

While acknowledging that part of the rise in diagnosis was down to doctors becoming better at recognising the symptoms of ADHD, the study's authors said that the DSM's definition of the condition had been broadened in more recent editions and that guidelines in the UK, the US and Australia offered no definitions of mild ADHD, as opposed to more severe types. 

"The broadening of diagnostic criteria in DSM-5 [the most recent edition] is likely to increase what is already a significant concern about overdiagnosis," the authors conclude. "It risks resulting in a diagnosis of ADHD being regarded with scepticism, to the harm of those with severe problems who unquestionably need sensitive, skilled specialist help and support."

They recommended other countries adopt the "conservative treatment approach" recommended by the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Commenting on the paper, Professor Eric Taylor of King's College Institute of Psychiatry, said the NHS applied "strict criteria" on ADHD diagnosis.

"Probably too few children here get help," he said. "The increase [in diagnosis] in the UK follows an increased ability in the medical profession to recognise ADHD; but all too many children with severe problems still go untreated."

Professor Philip Asherson, a consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital said: "Clinicians need to be aware of labelling normal developmental change, while at the same time being aware that ADHD can be a serious condition that requires treatment. The authors provide a sensible approach to deal with this problem in children."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?