Concern over big rise in Ritalin prescriptions

THE number of children in the Lothians receiving Ritalin to control their behaviour has doubled in the past two years, it emerged today.

An estimated 2000 children are thought to be receiving regular doses of the controversial drug, sparking fears that it is being dispensed "like sweeties" while concerns remain over its long term impact.

Figures obtained by the Evening News show there were nearly 20,000 prescriptions of the drug - known officially as methylphenidate - last year, compared to 11,000 two years ago.

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Use of the drug is popular for treating youngsters with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). NHS bosses said the hike was down to greater awareness, but experts today lined up to criticise the drastic increase in prescriptions.

Dr Gwynedd Lloyd, an honorary fellow and education researcher at Edinburgh University, said: "It's quite shocking really that the prescriptions keep on rising.

"We still don't know what will be the long-term implications of prescribing stimulants to children whose brains are still developing.

"I think in a few years' time we will wonder what we were doing giving amphetamine type medication to small children."

Ritalin remains a major form of medication across the UK, despite reports showing the dangers it carries.

While the drug almost instantly improves behaviour in most cases, critics say it can numb all kinds of other emotions, leaving some youngsters in a "zombie like" state.

The decision to prescribe the drug is usually made between parents and, and occasionally with the advice of teachers.

According to an official prescriptions-to-users formula, 20,000 doses would equate to at least 2000 mainly child patients.

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City-based child educational psychologist Charles Gibb, who works at the Capital's Education Psychology Practice, said: "I don't blame parents necessarily, but in some cases GPs are prescribing Ritalin like sweeties.

"It may be a decent short-term solution for some but not long-term."

Lothians Conservative MSP Gavin Brown said: "Such an increase in the amount of Ritalin being prescribed in NHS Lothian is worrying.

"We need to look more at the causes and deal with the longer term affects of ADHD."

Linda Irvine, strategic programme manager in Mental Health and Wellbeing for NHS Lothian said: "We are seeing an increasing trend across Scotland as a whole for children being diagnosed with ADHD as highlighted by Quality Improvement Scotland.

"Likewise in Lothian we expect to see a continued increase in children being diagnosed, due mainly to greater awareness and improved diagnostic skills."

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