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Should we be concerned about medicating children's behaviour problems?

Guest blog by Pat McFadden MP

This afternoon I have an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on the use of drugs like Ritalin and other methylphenidate based drugs to treat childhood behaviour problems such as ADHD.

There has been a sixfold increase in England in the number of prescriptions for these types of drugs since 1997, and a doubling in the past few years. Last year over 600,000 prescriptions were issued. There is significant variance in the pattern of prescriptions in different parts of the country. 

The Department of Health’s guidance says these drugs should not be given to children under 6, yet there is strong anecdotal evidence from educational psychologists that this guidance is being breached. The Department of Health does not collect data on the age of those receiving these drugs. So we have clear guidance and no adequate means of knowing whether or not it is being adhered to.

Do you think we should be medicating childhood behaviour problems? Join the discussion 

There is also the issue of what to do after children have been on these drugs for some years – often in combination with other drugs.

Education and medical professionals believe these drugs can be effective where ADHD is properly diagnosed. However, given the year on year increase in prescriptions, are alternatives such as counselling being adequately considered, or are prescription drugs being used as a first option?

Educational psychologists and the British Psychological Society are concerned that new diagnostic guidance due to be introduced in 2013, known as DSM V, could enhance the trend towards the medicalisation of behaviour problems.

I think it is time for the Department of Health to conduct proper research into the growth in the use of methyphenidate. They should establish at what age children are getting these drugs, why there is such variance around the country and what might the long term effects be.

I also believe the Government should accept the call from the Association of Educational Psychologists for a full review of trends in this area involving education, medical and psychology professionals as well as of course the parents of children identified as suffering from ADHD. 

Pat McFadden
is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East. He tweets as @patmcfaddenmp

Last updated: 09-Apr-2013 at 4:59 PM