A new report suggests that women’s use of medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has more than doubled in the past decade, surpassing use of these kinds of meds by men.
According to the report published by Medco Health Solutions, the number of women on ADHD drugs was 2.5 times higher than in 2001. The most striking increase — 264 percent — was seen in young and middle-aged adult women — ages 20 to 44 years old.
The report is the result of an analysis of trends in mental health medication usage among approximately 2.5 million insured Americans, comparing utilization of antidepressants, antipsychotics, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs and anti-anxiety treatments from 2001 to 2010.
Generally, ADHD is diagnosed in childhood first. It may be that girls who have ADHD remain undiagnosed until they reach adulthood, largely because the way attention deficit disorder is expressed in girls is different and less obvious than how it is expressed in boys. Girls tend to show less hyperactivity, one of the defining characteristics in most people’s minds about ADHD.
As the girls grow up, the inability to concentrate and focus on a single task at a time aspect of ADHD may become more noticeable. This could happen because young adults often have more responsibilities to juggle than a teenage girl does.
The findings also suggest that, across the board, women take more psychiatric medications than men.
Antidepressants are by far the most commonly utilized, with over 20 percent of women on a drug typically prescribed to treat depression. Anxiety treatments are also widely used by women and at almost twice the rate of men. The greatest use of anti-anxiety medications is found among middle-aged women, 11 percent of whom were on such a drug last year.
“Over the past decade, there has been a significant uptick in the use of medications to treat a variety of mental health problems; what is not as clear is if more people – especially women, are actually developing psychological disorders that require treatment, or if they are more willing to seek out help and clinicians are better at diagnosing these conditions than they once were,” said Dr. David Muzina, a psychiatrist and national practice leader of the Medco Neuroscience Therapeutic Resource Center.
While women are the predominant users of atypical antipsychotics, there has been a huge upswing in utilization of these drugs among males as well, quadrupling in men ages 20-64 since 2001.
“The overall results, that substantially more individuals are on psychotropic medications is sobering and important. Understanding the reasons for this increase is the next critical goal,” said Dr. Martha Sajatovic, Professor of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Director of the Neurological Outcomes Center, University Hospitals Case Medical Center.
“The health care implications could be substantial given increasing financial constraints on individuals and health care funding entities.”
The number of children (19 and younger) on mental health drug treatments was up in all areas over the past ten years, with antidepressants being the one exception — dropping substantially since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warnings in 2004 on risks of suicidal ideation linked to these drugs in children.
Use of ADHD drug use has also been on the decline in both boys and girls since 2005. Boys are the primary users of ADHD drugs and atypical antipsychotics, while a greater number of girls take antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
While the actual prevalence of children on atypical antipsychotics is low (under one percent), the number doubled from 2001 to 2010.
“The fact that more children are being treated with atypicals is concerning given that substantial weight gain is highly associated with the use of these drugs in this population, putting children at risk for diabetes and heart disease-related conditions,” said Dr. Muzina. “When using these drugs, children need to be monitored on a frequent basis to prevent against these serious health risks.”
Among adults, those ages 20-44 showed the greatest spikes in the use of mental health drugs over the decade for three of the four medication categories.
In addition to more than tripling their use of ADHD medications since 2001, the 20-44 age group also saw significant spikes in utilization of atypical antipsychotics (248 percent) and their use of anti-anxiety treatments was up nearly 30 percent.
Source: Medco Health Solutions