ICBioethics Blog 

What Impact does Prescription Drug Advertising have on the Prevalence of ADHD?

Written by: Barbara Postol

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that eleven percent of school age children have been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, (ADHD) a disorder characterized by hyperactivity and/or inattention. Over the past decade there has been a 41 percent rise in the diagnosis which may increase more in the future, as the American Psychological Association is revising the criteria for the disorder which may mean more children will meet criteria.

This is alarming on many levels. The most common medications used in the treatment of ADHD are stimulant drug medications, which are effective in the treatment for children who indeed have ADHD but they are also not without risk of abuse as well as present unwanted side effects such as loss of appetite or difficulty sleeping. What might account for this drastic increase?

Often times parents may feel their children are exhibiting symptoms of ADHD. There has been an increase in mild symptoms, for example being fidgety and such behaviors readily warranting medication without hesitation. Often, parents may not be the best reporters of abnormal behaviors in contrast to a trained mental health professional. Many behaviors of childhood are a part of normal development such as trouble keeping in a seat in school or working for extended periods of time. However, aside from professionals in child development this most likely may not be known. Parents are however bombarded with ads in magazines and the Internet highlighting the symptoms of ADHD.

How does this impact their ideas of ADHD? Outside of behavior problems in school, parents may seek treatment options for their children and many of their ideas may come from prescription drug advertisements. With such drastic increases in diagnoses the impact of drug ads must be considered. What are the ethical implications that drug ads have on ideas of disorders such as ADHD?

Mitch GennusoComment