6 Jun 2011

ADHD drugs prescribed to under-sixes against guidelines

Health and Social Care Correspondent

Children under the age of six are being dosed with drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD – against all national guidelines, Channel 4 News learns.

Experts have told us the numbers are growing, with estimates of “thousands” of children in Britain being prescribed drugs such as Ritalin.

On Monday, the Association of Educational Psychologists, backed by the British Psychological Society and the National Union of Teachers, called for an urgent review.

Kate Fallon, General Secretary of the AEP, said: “We are calling for an urgent national review of the use of psychotropic drugs, like Ritalin, and how they are being used, because we are concerned about the long-term effects on children’s brains.”

Most of the drugs for ADHD work in a similar way by easing the symptoms, which include inability to concentrate, hyperactivity and impulsivity. In many cases, they work effectively. But figures obtained by Channel 4 News show a massive increase in the amount of ADHD medicine being prescribed in Britain.

Massive increase in ADHD prescriptions

Five years ago, 389,000 prescriptions were handed out by doctors. By last year that figure had nearly doubled.

But what we have also learned is that these drugs are increasingly being given to children under the age of six. This is against both the guidelines issued by the manufacturers and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

Nicholas Hanney, of Sandwell in the West Midlands, said that his son Kenneth was first prescribed a psychotropic drug when he was five. Kenneth was not offered counselling or therapy before he was given the drugs, which again is against all national guidelines.

Dave Traxson, an educational psychologist for more than 30 years in the West Midlands, said that 10 years ago he was not aware of children under six being prescribed these drugs.

We spoke to Darren Hucknall, whose son Harry hanged himself last year when he was just 10 years old. Harry had been prescribed Prozac for depression and Ritalin for ADHD.

His devastated father told Channel 4 News that his son had “managed OK” before being put on these drugs and that he had gone to the doctor to ask why he had given Harry this prescription. At the inquest in March he asked the doctor again why this had happened.

“He told me my son had a chemical brain imbalance. And I said how do you know? Did you take chemicals from his brain?” he said.

The coroner later said that it was difficult to know whether the drugs had contributed to Harry’s death, but he strongly queried the wisdom of prescribing these drugs to such young children.