GPs 'Giving Ritalin to Babies Under A Year Old'
By PAUL SIMS
30th July 2007
Thousands of children are needlessly being prescribed mind-altering powerful drugs for hyperactivity, according to opposition MPs.
Research suggests that some GPs are even handing out Ritalin pills to children under a year old.
Almost 400,000 youngsters aged between five and 19 are being treated with Ritalin and similar drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, despite fears about the drugs' side-effects.
The Conservative Party says the number of prescriptions for behavioural problems has risen by 156 per cent in the last six years.
Those diagnosed with ADHD often display disruptive behaviour and have difficulty paying attention to specific tasks.
In the last five years alone, NHS spending on stimulant drugs such as Ritalin has trebled - despite concerns over the potential health risks.
Official guidelines recommend drug treatment only for the most severely affected children. But the Tories claim that Ritalin and similar drugs are being prescribed to those with mild symptoms.
A formal diagnosis of ADHD should take many hours, but they say some GPs are prescribing powerful drugs after brief consultations.
This is despite reports of sideeffects such as cardiovascular disorders, hallucinations and even suicidal thoughts.
At least nine deaths have been reported to the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency since Ritalin became available in the early 1990s. Shadow Commons leader Theresa May said: "They are powerful prescription drugs and we don't know what their long-term effects are. Despite this, they are being given to children before they are a year old.
"I have no doubt that there are children in the UK with ADHD who will benefit from Ritalin.
"But the increase of prescriptions raises questions in my mind as to whether it is being prescribed properly in each and every case.
"A six-year-old who was prescribed Ritalin experienced low moods and marked depression and tried to throw himself out of a window within two months of starting treatment. He recovered after drug withdrawal."
She is calling on NHS bosses to review their policy on prescribing such drugs. "With such widespread use of these prescription medicines we need a review of the current guidelines, with a view to tightening them," she said.
"More research should be done into the effectiveness of non-drug treatment and natural remedies to treat ADHD."
As there are no official records on the number of children prescribed Ritalin in Britain, the Tories used research compiled from global studies conducted over the past decade.
It comes after a report by the University of California showed the use of ADHD drugs has tripled worldwide since 1993.
Monthly prescriptions for Ritalin in England and Wales increased from 4,000 in 1994 to 359,000 in 2004, it claimed.
But Andrea Bilbow, chief executive of ADHD charity Addiss, dismissed the research as "misleading" and claimed that the disorder was still "under-diagnosed and underprescribed".
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