Concern Over Rising Use Of ‘Chemical Cosh’ On Disturbed Youngsters

More children than ever in Scotland are being prescribed drugs to treat hyperactivity, figures revealed yesterday. Statistics show prescriptions for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) increased by almost 16 per cent in 2005-6, with 49,528 handed out by doctors.

This compared with 42,832 the previous year and fewer than 4,000 in 1996.

The cost to the NHS has increased to more than £1.89 million, compared with £1.45 million the previous year and less than £33,000 in 1996.

The Scottish Executive said the rise was due to increased awareness of ADHD and it did not expect to see similar rises in future years.

But many have expressed concerns that controversial drugs such as Ritalin – sometimes nicknamed the “chemical cosh” – are being handed out too readily to children with behaviour problems.

Side-effects of ADHD drugs include possible heart problems, and nine deaths among children taking ADHD drugs in the UK have been reported to the medicines watchdogs.

But doctors and campaigners have defended the medication, saying it dramatically improves the quality of life for families.

Yesterday’s figures also showed large variations in prescribing between regions.

The largest user of ADHD drugs in 2005-6 was Fife, with 179.98 prescriptions per 1,000 youngsters aged five to 14. This compared with the Scottish average of 82 per 1,000 and a low in the Western Isles of 23 per 1,000 children.

Andrea Bilbow, of the National Attention-Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service (ADDISS), said varying rates of prescribing were probably due to doctors having differing experience in diagnosing and treating ADHD.

“The rise might be because children are being diagnosed more quickly and more comprehensively than in the past,” Ms Bilbow said, and she added that it was not correct to label AHDH drugs being used to “dope up” children.

“We know from research that medication improves the quality of life for parents and children living with ADHD,” she said.

A survey of more than 500 families by the charity found that 89 per cent reported improvements in school performance after starting medication, with 80 per cent reporting better relationships with other children.

“The impact on families can be significant and anything that can help them is worth trying. Obviously, if a child has a bad reaction to medication they will be taken off it. But it is good to have the option,” Ms Bilbow said.

It is estimated that about 47,000 children in Scotland may be suffering from ADHD.

In the past, fears have been raised that children could be wrongly diagnosed with ADHD when they are simply misbehaving.

Earlier this year, Dr Gywnedd Lloyd, the head of educational studies at Edinburgh University, warned that doctors were too keen to label children as having ADHD without proper investigation into other possible causes.

She said that youngsters may be given medication needlessly as a result.

Shona Robison, the health spokeswoman for the Scottish National Party, expressed concern at yesterday’s prescription figures.

“A rise in the prescription of drugs for ADHD children is a concern, given the lack of alternative support other than drugs. More resources must be dedicated to other forms of treatment and support for children across Scotland,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said: “New mental health treatment services for children have been developed across Scotland over the last year, and this has led to an increase in awareness of ADHD.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the prevalence of ADHD has increased, but awareness of the condition and compliance with Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network guidance has, and this explains a rise in prescriptions in the last year.

“We would not expect to see a similar rise year-on-year over the next few years in the prescribing of these drugs.”


What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is thought to be a neurological disorder that manifests itself with symptoms such as hyperactivity, forgetfulness, poor impulse control and distractibility.

What sort of treatment is available?

Though currently incurable, it is treatable with a combination of psychotherapy and the prescribing of stimulants that affect the areas of the brain responsible for focus, attention and impulse control. The most frequently prescribed stimulants are methylphenidate, better known as Ritalin and Concerta, but also amphetamine-based medicines and dextroamphetamines are used.

Are there other non-medicinal treatments?

There are indications children with ADHD may benefit from a diet free of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. There is also evidence that taking fish-oil supplements and multivitamin supplements may help to relieve the condition.


The number of children abusing alcohol who came forward for help has increased by 85 per cent in the past five years.

Sixty-five under-15s accessed treatment services for alcohol problems in 2005/06, compared with 56 the previous year and 35 in 2001/02. Last year, 188 children came forward for help with drug abuse, with 53 in Fife alone. That compares with 108 in 2001/02. Yesterday’s figures also showed that more children in Scotland are having to make emergency trips to hospital.

In 2005/06 almost 56,600 children were admitted to hospital as an emergency case – 65.4 visits per 1,000 of the population. This is up from less than 55,000 in 2005.


Scotland is losing the fight to contain rising obesity among young children, figures reveal. Measurements from almost 24,000 Primary 1 children found that 21.8 per cent are now overweight or obese, compared to 21.5 per cent the previous year and 19.7 per cent when routine measuring began in 2000/01. The percentage of youngsters classed as obese has risen from 8 per cent to 9.1 per cent in six years. Severe obesity has risen from 3.9 per cent to 4.4 per cent.

Campaigners expressed concern that obesity was still not be properly tackled in Scotland.

Deputy health minister Lewis Macdonald said: “Obesity cannot be tackled through government action alone – it is everyone’s responsibility to eat a healthy diet and take regular exercise.”


Uptake of the MMR vaccine is still too low in Scotland, figures showed yesterday.

The proportion of two-year-olds receiving the combined measles, mumps and rubella jab was 92 per cent for the three months to September. But the Scottish Executive’s target is for 95 per cent coverage with the jab.

Only one of Scotland’s 14 health boards – NHS Dumfries and Galloway – met the target. NHS Highland had the lowest uptake, with 87.1 per cent.

MMR uptake levels began to drop after 1998 when a controversial study, since discredited, suggested the jabs were linked to autism.

MMR uptake now is gradually rising, up by 0.1 per cent on the same time last year.