- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The use of drugs to treat attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder climbed almost 19 percent for adults last year as critics of the medicines say they are overprescribed and pose health risks.

Americans ages 20 to 44 represented the near 19 percent increase in 2005, while use among children younger than 10 fell 5 percent, according to an analysis released yesterday by pharmacy benefits manager Medco Health Solutions Inc. The federal government is reviewing the drugs because of safety concerns.

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel today will be reviewing data to determine whether to strengthen warnings about cardiovascular and psychiatric risks that might be associated with the drugs. The panel also will examine whether an experimental ADHD drug called Sparlon increases the risk of suicidal thoughts.

Critics have long held that the medications used to treat ADHD are overprescribed, especially for children, but Medco data show the biggest jump in use from 2004 to 2005 was among young adults and those in early middle age.

“Over the last 10 years, there has been more awareness that ADHD is a lifelong disorder,” said Brian Goodman, spokesman for Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Mr. Goodman said many people wrongly think ADHD is a childhood condition that its sufferers will outgrow.

“It actually lasts a lifetime,” he said.

Children remain the biggest population taking prescription ADHD drugs, which include Novartis AG’s Ritalin and Focalin; Shire PLC’s Adderall; and Johnson & Johnson’s Concerta. Last year, an estimated 3.3 million patients 19 and younger took the drugs, the new analysis shows. That figure compared with an estimated 1.7 million adults ages 20 to 64 who also take these drugs, Medco said.

The number of youngsters 10 to 19 who took ADHD medications rose 2 percent between 2004 and 2005.

The analysis is based on prescription data from a sample of 2.5 million of Medco’s 55 million members and then, using Census data, extrapolated for the national usage estimates.

Last month, a different FDA advisory panel, composed of heart specialists, recommended a strong “black-box” warning on ADHD medicines, saying they might increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and sudden death.

The safety panel said the drugs could be more problematic for adults than children, because adults are at greater risk for heart problems and strokes.

The FDA reported that 25 users of ADHD drugs, including 19 children and teens, died suddenly between 1999 and 2003. Another 54 suffered serious cardiovascular disorders, such as heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and irregular heart rate.

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