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Warning on rise in ADHD Medicines

An epidemic of over-prescription and misdiagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be exposing thousands of children to unknown long-term side-effects of amphetamine-based drugs.

Amanda Banks

An epidemic of over-prescription and misdiagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be exposing thousands of children to unknown long-term side-effects of amphetamine-based drugs.

An alarming report into ADHD in Western Australia", default", released yesterday, found the number of prescriptions for Dexamphetamine to treat the condition had increased in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT between 1999/2000 and 2003.

The increase was greatest in Western Australia, and had reached nearly four times the national average.

Australia-wide, 12.5 prescriptions were written per 1000 people in 2003 compared with 44 prescriptions per 1000 among West Australians.

The bi-partisan report of a lower house West Australian parliamentary committee pointed to inadequate training of pediatricians as a major cause for the over-use of drug therapy to manage ADHD.

It called for an urgent overhaul of Western Australia's model for diagnosing, assessing and treating the condition.

It also recommended the federal Government investigate and address the disproportionate use of dexamphetamine across the states and territories, and liaise with state governments to ensure a full range of publicly funded treatment options were available.

The committee estimated 11,500 children in Western Australia – some as young as 2 – were prescribed psychostimulant drugs, mainly Dexamphetamines for ADHD.

Some children using drug therapy were hospitalized for detoxification and reported episodes of psychotic behavior.

The report said there was a paucity of evidence on the long-term effects of psychostimulant drugs on children, and a growing body of evidence to suggest drugs were being diverted for illicit use.

A lack of public health treatment options and multidisciplinary assessment teams, and inadequate training and support services for teachers were also criticized.

Committee deputy chairman and Liberal MP Mike Board said up to 75 per cent of cases were being misdiagnosed, based on the small number of children treated at Perth's Bentley Clinic.

Committee member and Labor MP Martin Whitely blamed subjective diagnosis models and a narrow approach by pediatricians for the disproportionate levels of drug use in the state. He warned that poor policies and medical culture indicated South Australia could be the next to face a similar epidemic.

"The fundamental problem in Western Australia is we look at the behavior, we categorizes them in one group and come up with the same solution," Mr. Whitley said.

"It is a huge imposition on the rights of children."

Australian Medical Association West Australian president Paul Skerritt defended the pediatric and psychiatric professions, which he said were highly dedicated to a multidisciplinary approach.

"The thing that jumps off the pages is the inadequacy of public mental health services for children," he said.

Sent to us by Janne Larson

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