Use of ADHD Drugs Surges With Young Women Leading Gain

The number of Americans taking attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medicines rose 36 percent in 2012 from 2008, led by an surge among women, according to drug-benefits manager Express Scripts Holding Co.

Use of the medications grew 85 percent in 2012 from 2008 for women ages 26 to 34, and women 19 and over now outnumber men in use of the medicines, according to the report released today. Boys 12 to 18 years old are the most heavily prescribed, with about 9.3 percent on ADHD drugs in 2012.

Almost 4.8 million privately insured people were on ADHD medicines in 2012, the report said. People with the disorder have problems paying attention and remaining focused, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Drugs to treat it including Ritalin, Adderal and their generic equivalents, are stimulants.

“The population treated for ADHD has exploded in the U.S., dwarfing its diagnosis and treatment seen in other countries,” Express Scripts said in the report, which was published by the company’s research arm. Use of the drugs increased among every single age category from 4 to 64, the report found.

Express Scripts, based in St. Louis, using a database of 15 million people with private insurance, looked at the claims of more than 400,000 people who filled a prescription for a ADHD medication.

Young women take ADHD prescription drugs at lower rates than boys from ages 4 to 18, then begin to increase at age 19. Some women may be taking the medications improperly as a weight-loss aid, or for depression, according to the report.

Spending on ADHD medicines rose as well, increasing 14 percent in 2012 -- the most of any traditional drug category, Express Scripts said.

While more patients are being diagnosed that need treatment, “there are also a variety of clinical and societal trends that have inflated ADHD diagnoses and drug treatments to questionable levels,” said the report. “ADHD has unfortunately become the go-to condition for children with behavioral issues.”