May 19, 2014 at 11:14 AM ET
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common behavioral disorder of childhood, yet experts are worried by statistics that show very young kids are now getting powerful medications to treat the problem.
Some 10,000 toddlers across the U.S. are being diagnosed as hyperactive and receiving drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced in a new report. The 2- and 3-year-olds — especially those whose families who are on Medicaid —are getting the drugs even though the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t even have guidelines for ADHD in children under 4.
“We're giving Adderall to 2-year-olds? I mean, that's nuts,” said Dr. Lawrence H. Diller, a behavioral pediatrician.
“There's no evidence that it works. There's no evidence that it's safe. These are desperate measures.”
Doctors say drugs that treat ADHD can stunt growth or cause insomnia and loss of appetite even in older children. Diller also noted that while the U.S. makes up 4 percent of the world's population, it uses 70 percent of the world's Adderall and Ritalin.
About 11 percent of American children 4-17 years of age have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the CDC. Kids with the disorder have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors, or are overly active, which can cause trouble at school or at home.
Some doctors say ADHD medications could be a last resort physicians turn to when toddlers might harm themselves, but others note having lots of energy and acting out is simply a part of being a young child.
Many parents are disturbed by the CDC’s findings.
“I don't get how you diagnose somebody. I mean, if they're hyper or all over the place then you probably have a 2-year-old,” said Craig Lewis, a dad.
Doctors say more studies are needed on the effects of ADHD drugs on children so young. The CDC’s findings follow a recent survey that found 7.5 percent of U.S. children aged 6–17 are taking some sort of prescription medicine for emotional or behavioral difficulties.