A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed a dramatic increase in the number of young women taking prescription ADHD medications like Adderall or Ritalin.
The study drew on a sample size of about 4.6 million women aged 15 to 44, all with private health insurance including prescription drug coverage. Researchers found that ADHD medication prescription rates among these women jumped 344 percent between 2003 and 2015, according to a press release published by the CDC Thursday. Among women ages 25 to 29, the study found a whopping 700 percent increase, a jump from about one percent to five and a half percent of the general population. For women ages 30 to 34, that increase was 560 percent.
The most commonly prescribed drugs were Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin.
The results are of particular interest because they concern women of childbearing age, and little is known about the safety of these types of medications during pregnancy.
“Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and women may be taking prescription medicine early in pregnancy before they know they are pregnant,” said Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., M.S.Hyg., director, CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “Early pregnancy is a critical time for the developing baby. We need to better understand the safest ways to treat ADHD before and during pregnancy.”
An article in USA Today framed the increase as a success — diagnosis simply catching up with prevalence rates. The story quotes ADHD specialist and developmental pediatrician Dr. Patricia Quinn, who described the increase as “a rightsizing rather than overdiagnosis” because “roughly five percent of the adult population is considered to have ADHD.”
The New York Times saw things differently. Their article on the findings explained that prevalence studies, “using strict criteria, estimate that around three percent of adult women overall have ADHD, well under the five percent and higher rates recorded in some age groups by the CDC.” The Times also points out that the increase may be due in part to the fact that some people use ADHD meds as performance-enhancing drugs, to increase focus for study or work.
One thing this study clearly confirms is that the number of women on ADHD meds that may potentially get pregnant has increased dramatically. Experts advise women to consult with a doctor before either stopping or starting a medication.
What do you think of the dramatic increase in the use of ADHD meds? Tell us @BritandCo.
(Illustration by Sarah Tate/Brit + Co)