Use of ADHD drugs increasing worldwide

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - Worldwide use of medications to treat ADHD is growing, challenging the notion that the condition is uniquely American.

The United States still is the leader by far, but the rest of the world is beginning to catch up.

Since 1993, the use of drugs to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder has more than tripled worldwide, and rates are increasing faster outside of the United States.

"The diagnosis is not unique to the U.S.," said pediatrician Peter Levine of Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Calif. "A lot of people are saying this is an American problem and that medications are overprescribed in this country. This (study) shows other countries are finding they have the same problems."

Levine was part of a team that looked at the use of psycho-­stimulant medications to treat ADHD among 5- to 19-year-olds. The researchers found that the number of countries using medications had risen from 31 in 1993 to 55 in 2003 and the U.S. share of the global market for the drugs fell from 86.8 percent to 83.1 percent. The results appear Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs.

"ADHD is one of the most frequent childhood disorders that we know about today," said co-author Stephen Hinshaw, head of the University of California, Berkeley psychology department.

The disorder is probably the most treated childhood disorder in the U.S. and could reach the same status globally, Hinshaw said. "If current trends continue, it's on that trajectory."

Five to eight percent of U.S. children and adolescents have the disorder, which is characterized by distractibility, trouble concentrating, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.