More than three times the number of prescriptions are being given to people with Attentions Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Norwich than in some other parts of the region.
Figures obtained by the Evening News show city doctors prescribed three times more drugs to children and adults with ADHD than those in Cambridge and a third more than those in Ipswich.
The number of prescriptions given out for ADHD in Yarmouth was also higher than other parts of the region.
Last year it was revealed that more anti-depressant drugs had been prescribed by Norwich GPs than anywhere else in the country, giving the city the reputation of being the 'pill-popping' capital of England.
Statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act show that in Norwich, there were 2,789 ADHD drugs given out by Norwich Primary Care Trust (PCT).
Of those there were 2,316 prescriptions of methylphenidate-based drugs, which have been branded the “new cocaine” because they are being used as a recreational drug for their hallucinogenic and stimulant qualities.
Great Yarmouth PCT handed out 2,252, of which 1,990 were methylphenidate-based.
The well-known brand Ritalin is one type and pop star Daniel Bedingfield is known to have used the drug to treat his ADHD.
But campaigners have said that dishing out drugs is not the long term solution to dealing with the rise in the number of these cases.
Great Yarmouth mother Helen Thompson said her 15-year-old son Ricky was turned into a “zombie” by prescribed drugs and called for more alternative treatment for the condition.
Other large towns and cities have dished out fewer drugs than Norwich and Yarmouth; Cambridge City PCT prescribed 926 ADHD drugs, 724 being the Ritalin type, and in Ipswich a total of 2,064 have been handed out, with 1,811 being methylphenidate-based.
Broadland PCT dished out 1,364 ADHD drugs, of those 1,083 were methylphenidate-based and North Norfolk prescribed 1,826 of which 1,479 were the Ritalin type.
But Norwich PCT is looking at other ways of tackling health problems, such as providing people with the opportunity to express their feelings and thoughts through the creative arts rather than relying on drugs.
Richard Reading, a consultant paediatrician at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said today: “There are a lot of children who have a problem with ADHD and it's a big part of our work managing it.
“It's a common complaint and NICE have given guidance that between one and 1.5pc of children would benefit from being on medication; that's all children. I think most paediatricians would probably feel that's a bit of an over-estimate, although we are the ones that dish this stuff out. If you've got that amount of children being treated with medication there's something wrong somewhere.”
He added that Norwich had a very good record for identifying and treating children with ADHD, which might explain why more prescriptions were handed out in the city rather than Cambridge or Ipswich.
Speaking about the ADHD figures, a spokeswoman for Norfolk's primary care trusts said: “There is other support you can give families. It's not just drugs. This is just one possible aspect of treatment. There will be side effects with any drugs. If they are prescribed to children it is within a whole package of a wider treatment and assessment and making people aware of what's involved. There is lots of therapy and support for people managing this condition.”
Julie Chalk, deputy chairman of Little Devils ADHD support group in Norwich, said: “It all depends on if it works for your child. It did not do anything for my nine-year-old son Stephen.
“He got side effects of ticks after three years of taking Ritalin and had to come off it. There are concerns among some group members, but others say it is a miracle for them.”
The three methylphenidate drugs licensed in the UK are the bestselling Ritalin, Concerta and Equasym.
The figures for the ADHD drugs were provided by the NHS Business Services Authority, Prescription Pricing Division to a Freedom of Information request. They refused to comment on them.
Common reported side effects of methylphenidate-based drugs are difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, irritability, nervousness, stomach aches, headaches, dry mouth, blurry vision; nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, and tremors.
Other side effects include Tourette's syndrome, anorexia; palpitations; blood pressure and pulse changes; cardiac anemia; scalp hair loss, toxic psychosis, depression, convulsions, muscle cramps, tics, hallucinations, skin rashes, fever and minor retardation of growth.
A New Scientist article earlier this year said up to five per cent of children experience disturbing hallucinations often involving worms, snakes, or insects.
This year the UK licensing authority, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said nine children had died in this country after taking drugs for ADHD.
It is not known how many people in the UK use the drugs but the incidence of ADHD is believed to be between three and five per cent of the population.
The drugs are licensed for children as young as six - although there are reports of them being given to children as young as three.
A total of 361,832 prescriptions were written last year for Ritalin and other drugs of the methylphenidate class, which averages 30,153 a month.
Ritalin is now abused by teenagers and adults and in places such as London become the “new cocaine” because of its stimulant qualities and the fact it is an appetite supressant and has hallucinatory qualities. Abusers crush the tablets and snort the powder to get high.
Brian Daniels, spokesman for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), which carried out the FoI research, said: “ADHD is a highly controversial psychiatric condition that's never been scientifically proven. The drugs, commonly known as the 'chemical cosh', are a mental health ASBO, where children are being given chemical restraints to curb poor behaviour.
“Last year, the NHS drugs bill for this in England alone was £24 million, compared to £5.2 million in 2000, adding weight to the criticism that psychiatry is a profit-driven industry.
“Critics of the labelling and drugging of children point to a complete lack of evidence to support the existence of so-called ADHD. They also point to drug alerts from regulatory agencies in the UK and around the world detailing the serious side effects of ADHD drugs. The warnings highlight how some of the drugs can cause visual hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, psychotic behaviour, violence and aggression.”
Other critics claim ADHD is a rather vague diagnosis which is often leapt upon by teachers, social workers and parents to excuse and explain any unacceptable or uncontrollable behaviour and it can not be treated with medicines.
ADHD is a neurological condition related to the brain's chemistry and anatomy. Generally, it means the sufferer is unable to concentrate, is constantly on the move, and is often disruptive at home and at school.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he had not yet analysed the medical evidence for or against the drugs.
He said he was aware it was a controversial issue but took the view that medical experts should determine when the drug was appropriate.
Norwich South MP Charles Clarke said if any of his constituents raised concerns about such drugs he would look into the issue for them.
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