By Jenny Hope
The number of prescriptions being given to children with hyperactivity, depression and other mental health problems has soared over two years, according to new figures.
Over 420,000 prescriptions were issued to children under 16 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 2007 – up 33 per cent since 2005.
The number went up 51 per cent for youngsters aged 16-18, reaching 40,000 in 2007.
During this period NHS guidance endorsed at least three drugs for ADHD where other treatments have failed, despite fears about side effects and some critics complaining it medicalises antisocial behaviour.
More than 113,000 prescriptions of antidepressants were issued to children under 16 in 2007, a six per cent increase over two years.
Almost 108,000 antidepressant prescriptions went to 16-18-year-olds, which was unchanged over the period.
Over 86,000 prescriptions for anti-psychotics – powerful tranquiliser drugs – were issued to children under 18 in 2007.
The numbers for 16-18-year-olds went up seven per cent since 2005, while under 16s saw an 11 per cent increase.
Children with ADHD are prescribed drugs with brand names such as Ritalin, Concerta and Equasym, stimulants which fire up parts of the brain involved in concentration, attention and activity which can make them calmer.
Up to 100,000 British children aged five to 19 years with ADHD are believed to be on drugs – despite doctors’ fears about side effects.
These include cardiovascular disorders, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts as well as drowsiness, dizziness, abdominal pain, decreased appetite, nausea and early morning awakening.
There have been at least 12 deaths reported to the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency possibly linked to Ritalin since it became available in the early 1990s.
US research found Ritalin may cause lasting changes to the brain. Side effects including weight gain and heart trouble have been reported in autistic or hyperactive children treated with anti-psychotic drugs and there is little long-term evidence that the drugs are safe.
NHS advice on prescribing of antidepressants to children warns they all have ‘significant risks’.