Chemical cosh drugs 'given to children aged three' as prescriptions to treat hyperactivity soarNumber of Ritalin prescriptions leapt from 158,000 in 1999 to 661,463 in 2010
01:25 GMT, 7 May 2012
Out of control There is evidence that children under the age of six are taking the medication
Prescriptions for ‘chemical cosh’ drugs to treat hyperactivity have soared four-fold in a decade amid evidence that children as young as three are taking the medication.
The number of prescriptions for Ritalin leapt from 158,000 in 1999 to 661,463 in 2010, NHS figures have revealed.
Psychologists said they were seeing a sharp rise in the number of children below the age of six, and some as young as three, being prescribed the drug.
They also warned dosages were getting stronger, with children increasingly given a powerful ‘kickstart’ dose in the mornings.
Ritalin – whose generic name is methylphenidate hydrochloride – can cause nausea, fatigue and mood swings and has also been linked to suicides.
Most prescriptions would have been given to those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, with symptoms including an inability to concentrate and restless or impulsive behaviour.
The Association of Educational Psychologists surveyed members in the West Midlands and found more than 100 children under six on medication in the area.
‘This is reaffirmed across the country,’ it said.
Figures show almost 1.7million children aged up to 16 in England – 21 per cent – were recorded with special educational needs in 2011, up from 19 per cent in 2006.
Psychologists also warned that children with behavioural problem were increasingly prescribed Ritalin in conjunction with anti-depressants.
Chemical cosh: Ritalin – whose generic name is methylphenidate hydrochloride – can cause nausea, fatigue and mood swings and has also been linked to suicides
This was despite ‘little to no evidence about the effect which these cocktails of drugs are having on the development of children’s brains’.
Figures for Ritalin prescriptions were released to Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt, formerly a member of the Commons Education Select Committee.
She said too much attention was being given to ADHD treatments that involve medication at the expense of natural alternatives that could help combat the condition.
‘It is extremely alarming that in the decade up to 2010, prescriptions for Ritalin quadrupled,’ she said.
‘Statistics show that 90 per cent of prescriptions for this powerful drug in 2004 were used to combat behavioural problems in school-age children.
‘I am shocked that there has been such a huge explosion in use.’
She highlighted a report commissioned
by the RSPB that found activities in a natural environment appear to
improve ADHD symptoms compared with playing indoors and playing outdoors
in an urban area.
Research: Tessa Munt said the findings were 'extremely alarming'
But Mrs Munt said too many youngsters were prevented from enjoying the outdoors due to a lack of school playing fields and the lure of video games and social networking.
‘We hear teachers tell of their students’ lack of ability to concentrate, from police about increasingly disruptive and anti-social behaviour, and from parents unable to control the actions of young family members.
‘We need to show young people how to deal with the normal stresses and strains of growing up. Resorting to powerful drugs only stores up trouble for the future.’
She added that it was difficult to quantify how many children are being prescribed Ritalin.
‘Unless the Department of Health collects vital statistical data about prescribing habits, no one will know what is happening,’ she said.
Official figures show that almost 1.7million children aged up to 16 in England – 21 per cent – were recorded as having special educational needs in 2011.
This includes the whole spectrum of learning difficulties and physical disabilities including ADHD.
Rates had risen from 19 per cent in 2006.
Experts claimed last week that poor parenting and weak teaching are contributing to the rise in the number of children labelled as having special needs.
Katherine Ann Angel, an experienced teacher of children with special needs, said she believed conditions such as ADHD existed but added: ‘Some of these children have erratic or poor behaviour because of poor parenting – very few books, very poor diet and very late bedtimes.’
Jean Gross, the Government’s former speech and language tsar, said a special needs diagnosis can be ‘used as an explanation for failure’ by schools.
‘One-third of nine and 10-year-old boys have special educational needs (SEN).
‘It’s at that age that schools start to think they are not going to get a level four on their [national tests], so they get labelled as having SEN.
‘Teachers are also worried the child will not get help when they move to secondary school.
‘This is not done out of malice – schools are just trying to explain themselves.
‘It’s a real incentive to do this when schools don’t hit their floor target.’