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Irresponsible ADHD diagnoses on the rise

Both of my older sisters, ages 23 and 32, have been diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Vyvanse. I seemed to have been skipped over when it comes to ADHD symptoms, but if my sisters got by so long in life, especially in their formative years, without treatment, do they really need to be treated now? Do millions of 20-somethings really have ADHD, or is medication a simple solution for laziness in our generation?

NPR’s Nancy Shute published an article this March entitled “Young Women Increasingly Turn to ADHD Drugs” in which she wrote, “An analysis of prescriptions filled from 2008 to 2012 through Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company, found that use of ADHD medications rose 35.5 percent overall.”

Shute talked with Dr. David Muzina, who is the vice president and national practice leader for Express Scripts. He explained, “Frankly, many prescribers mistake a patient’s objective reporting of symptoms like being forgetful for ADHD.” He also said that 4 percent of young women were taking ADHD medicine in 2012 and it’s only increased since. He remarked that this is due primarily to the different ways ADHD manifests itself in girls. They aren’t being diagnosed until their late teens or early 20s because symptoms come by way of academic or social pressures, rather than aggressiveness or blatant inattentiveness seen mostly in younger males with ADHD.
A larger issue that could point to why there is a rise in young women prescribed ADHD medicine is the fact that taking it can lead to weight loss.

Muzina claims, “It’s popularized and perhaps glorified to some extent in popular media, including women’s magazines. I’ve seen references to using these medications for weight loss,” I personally know at least three girls who have faked ADHD symptoms to get the medicine and allegedly lose weight. This is extremely troubling because not only is this ethically and empirically wrong, it delegitimizes those who are really affected.

Maddy Blakeman, a sophomore here at Loyola and a member of the women’s lacrosse team, was diagnosed with ADHD when she was 16. She said, “My parents were well aware of it way before then, though. When I began to struggle in high school was when I suggested I see a doctor.” In regards to whether she thinks diagnoses have increased, she added, “I think it may partially be because they weren’t challenged enough in high school. Course loads are lighter and people can get by; but once these kids are getting to college, they’re incapable of focusing and maintaining time management, leaving doctors to conclude that it must be ADHD.” Blakeman also thinks that the ADHD medicine isn’t really doing any harm, but it’s certainly over-diagnosed; “everyone to an extent could possess the traits of someone with ADHD.”

Molly Wolf, another sophomore with ADHD at Loyola said, “I went to a doctor when I was a sophomore in high school and they said I was a mess. I feel like more and more people are being diagnosed, especially those that don’t necessarily need it. I think it’s being misdiagnosed a lot of the time for laziness or just as an excuse, but people like me, we really need it.”

Muzina voiced that many young women are using these medications for “less appropriate” reasons. “Stimulant medications are known to decrease a person’s appetite and are sometimes used as a weight-loss aid,” he said. Blakeman said, “My doctor, when I first started taking the medicine, asked me a ton of questions, saying that he’s seen a lot of girls fake the symptoms to get the medicine. But personally, I know that without food in my body I’m extremely angry and easily agitated. When I take it, I recognize that it completely takes away my appetite, leaving me to force myself to eat at times.” Wolf added, “I’ve never even thought about this medication for a weight loss purpose. It was a nice perk at first, but I need it [this medicine] to live.”

Muzina told NPR that Express Scripts is trying to monitor the patterns behind prescriptions more closely so they can intervene if someone shouldn’t be on the medicine. People who truly need to be on it, especially young girls, should be diagnosed earlier and not suffer in silence. On the other hand, improper prescriptions and medicinal abuse need to be stopped. Let’s leave the medicine for those who are truly struggling; if you really want to lose weight, do it the old fashioned way.

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Irresponsible ADHD diagnoses on the rise