Hyperactivity prescriptions triple in seven years
The use of powerful mind-altering drugs to treat supposedly hyperactive or badly behaved children has tripled in just seven years, despite fears over harmful side-effects.
Figures show that GPs wrote nearly 406,000 prescriptions for such drugs last year, compared with 135,000 in 1999. Last night, politicians and children's groups branded the rise "astonishing".
David Laws, the Liberal Democrat children's spokesman, said: "We need a fundamental review of whether we are right to be pouring chemicals into our children in this way. Perhaps we should instead be looking at issues such as food, sleeping patterns, family upheaval, and general environment."
Mr Laws, who obtained the figures in a Parliamentary question, said some families may be pressuring GPs to prescribe drugs to allow them to claim child disability allowances.
Parents who have a child diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are entitled to benefits of up to £10,000 a year. According to the latest figures, more than £17 million was spent last year on drugs to treat ADHD.
Prescriptions for the anti-ADHD drug Ritalin - said to be linked to depression, drowsiness, epilepsy and high blood pressure - slumped from 168,300 in 2001 to just 21,681 last year. However, other drugs using the same ingredient - methylphenidate hydrochloride - soared over the same period.
Prescriptions of Concerta rose from 43,100 in 2002 to 226,442 last year, while Equasym prescriptions rose from 4,400 in 2000 to 57,475.
A spokesman for the Swiss firm Novartis, which makes Ritalin, said "it has been used safely and effectively in the treatment of ADHD over more than 50 years and is one of the most studied drugs prescribed for the disorder".
"Novartis supports only the appropriate use of Ritalin, as indicated and prescribed by qualified, licensed healthcare professionals."