Rising ADHD prescription rates revealed

Prescriptions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have increased “significantly” in the UK this century, according to an analysis published today.

Large numbers of young adults are now on prescriptions whilst the number of diagnoses and prescriptions amongst boys over the age of ten has also doubled, according to researchers at University College London.

The findings, reported in BJPsych Open, come from analysis of seven million people in a primary care database.

Researchers found that one in 20 men between the ages of 18 and 29 now has an ADHD prescription compared with one in a thousand 20 years ago.

Amongst boys, aged ten to 16, 3.5% had an ADHD diagnosis in 2018 compared with 1.4% in 2000.

The researchers found no significant changes amongst infants in diagnoses or prescriptions.

Researcher Dr Doug McKechnie said: “Whilst ADHD is most likely to be diagnosed in childhood, an increasing number of people are diagnosed for the first time in adulthood. We do not know exactly why this is happening, but it may be that ADHD has become better recognised and diagnosed.

“Over the last few years, there have been many reports of long waiting lists for ADHD assessments on the NHS, especially in adults. It’s likely that more and more people will be diagnosed with, and treated for, ADHD, so specialist services need to be made available to handle this.”

He added: “There are already many demands on GPs’ time. We need to ensure we have the right frameworks in place to support them as rates and awareness of ADHD increase – allowing patients to receive prompt, safe and effective care.”

Dr Peter Carpenter, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Once someone has a diagnosis, they usually benefit from adjustments at work or in other areas of their daily lives. Medication can help treat symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, particularly in those who have a moderate to severe expression of ADHD. Talking therapies and peer support groups can also be beneficial.

“NHS mental health and primary care services must be provided with the necessary resources to meet this unprecedented rise in demand for support. Only with proper funding will they be able to effectively manage growing waiting lists for assessments and provide timely and high-quality post-diagnostic care to those who need it.”

Douglas GJ McKechnie et al. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnoses and prescriptions in UK primary care, 2000-2018: a population-based cohort study. BJPsych Open 17 July 2023


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