More than two million daily doses of Ritalin were prescribed to children in Scotland last year despite calls for doctors to reduce their use of the mood-altering drug. Around 6,000 children between six and 12 are now believed to be on Ritalin, which has been called the “chemical cosh” Although it can lead to a short-term improvement in behaviour it can also leave young children in a “zombie-like” state.
Dr Gwynedd Lloyd, an education specialist at the University of Edinburgh, said:“We don’t know what the long-term effects on developing brains are. Some children are being given more drugs to deal with side-effects like sleep loss and over-anxiety, so they end up on a cocktail of medication. We are narrowing the idea of what’s normal in children, and we should be looking at non-chemical ways of helping them.”
The figures, compiled by ISD Scotland, the statistics arm of NHS Scotland, reveal steep rises in the number of prescriptions of Ritalin for ADHD, a group of behavioural symptoms in children that include inattention, hyperactivity and compulsiveness. Children as young as six can be prescribed Ritalin or similar drugs as a way of controlling their behaviour and focusing their concentration, but experts have raised concerns that Ritalin is too often prescribed to treat normal developmental difficulties.
Big Pharma in search of profits
Dr Gwynedd Lloyd, explained “The attraction of the ADHD diagnosis and drugs is that it’s a simple solution. The reason for the increase is that drug companies realised that their North American sales were reaching what they called ‘saturation point’ so they started looking at Europe."
The Association of Educational PsychologistsGeneral secretary Kate Fallon said: “There is a danger that we rely on the ‘quick fix’ for children with conditions such as ADHD, which frequently means the prescription of medication such as Ritalin instead of a number of other possible interventions. These are very powerful drugs that should not be prescribed lightly and really be a last resort.”