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ADHD: By the numbers

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Here’s a stunner: The U. S. prescribes more drugs for ADHD than the rest of the world's nations combined, according to a recent article in Nature.

And, the steep rise in ADHD diagnoses in recent years — a 41 percent increase over the past decade — has only raised fears among some doctors and parents that millions of kids, considered overactive or unfocused, who are on stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall, don’t actually need them.

“We need to ensure balance,” CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden told The New York Times. “The right medications for ADHD, given to the right people, can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate.”

Some observers say the spike in diagnoses is due to improved awareness and screening of the neurobehavioral disorder. Others think that millions of healthy, rambunctious kids are simply being mislabeled.

“There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal — if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk — that’s pathological, instead of just childhood,” Dr. Jerome Groopman, a Harvard Medical School professor, told The New York Times.

No doubt the ADHD debate will continue. As it does, here are a few numbers that give important context to the issue:

Percentage of U.S. children with an ADHD diagnosis: 11 (CDC)

Percentage increase over the past decade: 41 (The New York Times)

Percentage of boys with an ADHD diagnosis: 13.2 (CDC)

Percentage of girls with an ADHD diagnosis: 5.6 (CDC)

Percentage more likely that children covered by Medicaid are diagnosed with ADHD: 50 (The Denver Channel)

Average age of diagnosis: 7 (CDC)

Number of American toddlers being diagnosed and medicated outside established pediatric guidelines: 10,000+ (The New York Times)

Percentage of high-school-age boys who have been diagnosed with ADHD: 19 (CDC)

Percentage of high-school-age girls who have been diagnosed with ADHD: 10 (CDC)

Percentage of Ivy League students who misused ADHD medication to gain an academic edge when studying or taking a test: 18 (Science Daily)

Percentage of children in Nevada with an ADHD diagnosis: 5.6 (CDC)

Percentage of children in Kentucky with an ADHD diagnosis: 18.7 (CDC)

Percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis who are on medication: 69 (Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

Percentage increase of children on ADHD medication from 2007 to 2011: 28 (Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

Percentage of children on ADHD medication that also get the recommended behavioral therapy: 25 (Reuters)

Percentage of adults with an ADHD diagnosis: 4.4 (The American Journal of Psychiatry)

Percentage increase in adults on ADHD medication from 2008 to 2012: 53 (NBC)

Number of years after which the effectiveness of ADHD medication starts to wane: 3 (The New York Times)

Percentage of kids on ADHD medication who experienced side effects: 80+ (Consumer Reports)

Number of “long-term consequences of taking stimulants for years on end …[that have] been fully evaluated in studies.” 0 (Consumer Reports)

Percentage of parents of medicated children who wish there was a non-medicated route to help their child: 44 (Consumer Reports)

Percentage of children misdiagnosed with ADHD who are actually experiencing a hypersensitivity to food, such as gluten, dairy or food additives: 64 (NPR)

Percentage by which ADHD drug use fell in schools that adopted a specific classroom exercise program: 33 (The Wall Street Journal)

Percentage of students with an ADHD diagnosis who have a learning disability: 25 (ADDitude)

Percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis who have at least one parent who has ADHD: 40 (ADDitude)

How many times more likely parents of a child with an ADHD diagnosis will separate or divorce: 3 (ADDitude)

Percentage of teens with an ADHD diagnosis who have been suspended from school: 45 (ADDitude)

Percentage of teens with an ADHD diagnosis who eventually drop out of school: 35 (ADDitude)

Annual estimated societal cost for ADHD: Between $36 and $52 billion (CDC)

Number of six-time Tony winners who thanked their parents in an acceptance speech for disobeying the doctor’s orders and not medicating them and instead channeling their energy into the theater: 1 (Playbill)

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