British Columbia

Researchers say increase in B.C. kids on ADHD drugs 'concerning'

Looking at years worth of studies on the topic, researchers said there is “convincing evidence” that many of the children are prescribed these drugs because they are the youngest in their class.

Drugs affect appetite, height, and growth, says researcher

Alan Cassels with the Therapeutics Initiative says Ritalin is the most commonly prescribed drug for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

University of British Columbia researchers say a growing number of B.C. kids are being prescribed stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and that is a worrying trend.

UBC's Therapeutics Initiative, which describes itself as an independent research and information body for physicians and pharmacists, released a letter that concluded that it's not known if the benefits of long-term central nervous system (CNS) stimulants for children with ADHD outweigh the harms.

"The recent increase in CNS stimulant prescribing in B.C. is unexplained and concerning," the letter said.

Looking at years worth of studies on the topic, researchers said there is "convincing evidence" that many of the children are prescribed these drugs because they are the youngest in the class, and are more immature.

One study found found that six-to-12-year-old boys and girls born between September and December were, respectively, 41 per cent and 77 per cent more likely to be taking stimulants than those born in January.

"This strongly suggests that teachers, parents and physicians are medicalizing a social rather than a medical problem," the letter read.

Limited upside to drugs

Alan Cassels, a spokesperson for the initiative, says the UBC researchers identified similar concerns about stimulant prescription about 10 years ago.

They wanted to look at it again this year to see if the previously identified and published concerns had led to a decrease in prescriptions over time. They didn't.

"The question we had is, is it wise or safe to be prescribing these drugs over the long-term for developing brains?" Cassels told On The Coast guest host Angela Sterritt.

"We know even in the short-term trials of these drugs they affect appetite, it affects height, it stunts growth. We've also seen the drugs can affect sleep.

"Does it increase academic achievement? … That has not been found in the literature either."

Cassels suggests the vast majority of prescriptions are aimed at getting kids to focus in classrooms.

He says parents who are told their children might be acting up in class due to ADHD-like symptoms may want to consider holding them back a year.

Listen to the full interview:

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast