A recent New York Times article addressed the increasing rate of kids diagnosed with ADHD. The author doubts that there are biological or environmental causes for this increase, and focuses on sociological factors including changes in the way we school our children, in the way we interact with doctors, and in what we expect from our kids. The unintended consequences of federal laws passed to help individuals may also bear responsibility.
In 1991 the Individuals with Disabilities Act included ADHD, giving students with that kind of a diagnosis not just medication but access to tutors and extra time on standardized tests. In 1997 the Food and Drug Administration began allowing pharmaceuticals to be directly marketed to the public. For the first time parents were hearing directly from drug companies offering to help their children. And then we have the problem with college students who want to pull an all-nighter to write a paper or study for an exam sometimes use drugs to treat ADHD as a stimulant to remain awake. This is not a safe or good plan, but estimates are that one out of five college students is doing this today. They are using Adderall, Ritalin, or other amphetamines based on prescription and medications. I guess some of these college students get these drugs by prescription, but I think most of them get them illegally from other students.
Listen to the radio commentary here: