Are we overmedicating our children?


According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2003 in Maine, 7.92 percent of youths ages 4-17 were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. This is a staggering percentage, and it is similar to other figures from across the country.

Among those diagnosed, 4.48 percent are medicated in this state alone. Unfortunately, the majority of the children who are medicated are between the ages of 9 and 12. In the United States 2.5 million children (56 percent of those diagnosed) are taking medication for this disorder, according to a report done by the CDC.

The diagnosis of ADHD is more common in males then females. Oftentimes, these young males are referred for diagnosis by their teachers at school. An unruly student in class does not call for medication that may eventually harm their development. Parents are pressured into making decisions for their toddlers as young as age two.

In 2005, it was estimated that the annual societal “cost of illness” for ADHD was between $36 and $52 billion, according to the CDC. That figure includes things such as health care costs for the individual, treatment for patients, and work lost for adults as a result of ADHD. Annually, the cost per individual with ADHD is between $12,000 and $17,450. That is money that could be spent on a variety of other things during these tough economic times.

Giving children an extra recess each day could be a simple solution for some of those diagnosed. Parents need to take action to assure that their children are getting a designated amount of time to release all their extra energy. As a student at Central Maine Community College, I find myself squirming after a three hour class, as I’m sure you do at work. Is it realistic to expect perfect behavior from a child?

According to PBS’s documentary “Raising Cain,” host Michael Tompson, Ph.D., stated that “America’s boys are in trouble. They are the most violent in the industrialized world and many are unable to express their emotions. On average, boys are doing worse in the classroom than they were ten years ago.” Children with or without ADHD, should have the option to express their fancies, and their teachers should be equipped to handle those situations.

Deciding what medication your child should be on isn’t an easy task, by any means. Unlike in the past, there are many more medications to choose from. Choosing the right medication is one of the most difficult tasks and, although some of the newer medications may be more convenient (only having to take one dose per day), that doesn’t mean they are better for the  child. According to, new medications, such as the sustained release version of Ritalin, known as Ritalin SR, have been found to work inconsistently for some, causing a second attempt at finding the right drug.

For those parents who have a child with ADHD, they tend to prefer the sustained release forms of medications because they have the benefit of working after school when the child is trying to do homework. While that is appropriate for them, the negative long-term effects of drugs such as that are still unknown.

Unfortunately, for those caregivers who don’t find a medication right away, they are forced to go through the emotionally grueling process of finding medications that do work for their children. It isn’t uncommon for a child to have to go through two medications before they find the key that fits their lock. Unwanted side effects are a consequence during this process, and it is just an unfortunate fact.

Kelsea Bridgham is a student at Central Maine Community College and works for Tri-County Mental Health. She lives in Turner.