Stimulant use eases in U.S. children

The sharp increase in youngsters taking prescribed stimulants that was noted a decade ago largely leveled off between 1997 and 2002, according to an analysis of data from an annual national survey. Physicians commonly prescribe stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderral for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

For children age 18 or younger, stimulant use increased from 0.6 percent in 1986 to 2.4 percent in 1996. Over the next 5 years, that rate stayed at about 2.7 percent, say psychiatrist Benedetto Vitiello of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., and his coworkers.

In 2002, 4.8 percent of 6-to-12-year-olds took stimulants, compared with 3.2 percent of 13-to-18-year-olds and 0.3 percent of children under 6 years of age, the researchers report in the April American Journal of Psychiatry. An estimated 2.2 million children received stimulant medication in 2002, compared with 2.0 million in 1997.

Annual surveys consisted of interviews with members of 7,200 to 11,700 households, as well as data from their pharmacies. Interviewers didn’t determine whether stimulant users had ADHD, which occurs in 4 to 5 percent of the general population.

Bruce Bower

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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