Better Than Before: Why are Adult Women Using ADHD Meds?

I read with great interest the other day a story on the rising use of ADHD medication among women. While the new mantra for women is that to succeed they need to “lean in,” to be more assertive and seek greater authority at work and at home, the added pressures to do it all may be driving them to use these prescriptions to help them attain that superwoman status. Consider, if you will, the competition out there. We all know that classic A-Type tornado — the woman who gets up at 5 a.m., sprints to the gym, then showers, answers all e-mails, fixes her family a breakfast of flaxseed banana waffles with hot maple syrup and is ready to go the office as soon as she drives her four equally perfect children to school.

I must confess that when my kids were little, I too, thought I could be the perfect woman. But that notion didn’t last very long. Indeed, I recall rushing my older sons off to the bus, taking my little girl to nursery school, and even giving The Lawyer a ride to his office. An hour later, all missions accomplished, I, Wonder Woman, űber wife, returned to my office and started to write my column still with plenty of time left to meet my deadline. I sat back in the chair and let out a large self-satisfied sigh, thinking to myself: Who said you can’t have it—and, most important, do it—all? Just then the phone rang.

“Mrs. Michael,” stated the voice on the other end, “this is Mrs. Butters at the nursery school.” Pause. “You seem to have sent your daughter to school in her pajamas.” Bam!

Until recently, the regular evening (and/or lunchtime) calmative of choice for professional women was almost always a glass (or two, or three) of white wine. But nowadays, more and more women are turning to prescription medication to help them focus and become more productive. While virtually all of us in the health advice arena recommend other modalities such as healthier diets, sound fitness programs and meditation, for example, a pill, alas, seems so much easier! In fact, according to a report just released by Express Scripts based  on an analysis of prescription claims that was the latest and most comprehensive look at ADHD medication trends in the U.S., adult women’s use of ADHD medications has risen so far and fast that it far outnumbers those taken by adult men.

The report also finds achievement demands may be impacting increasingly younger women. Surprisingly, the number of females ages 19-25 on these medications is 27 percent higher than girls ages 4-18, countering trends seen in males, whose ADHD medication use drops sharply after age 18. Furthermore, the greatest surge in ADHD use has been in the adult population – climbing 53 percent overall and an alarming 84 percent for those ages 26-34.

“The rapid increase in adult use of these medications is striking, especially since there is very little research on how these treatments affect an older population,” says David Muzina, M.D., Express Scripts’ Vice President of Specialist Practice. “It signals a need to look more closely at how and why physicians prescribe these medications for adults, particularly women, who may turn to them, or experience symptoms of attention disorders, as a result of keeping up with the multiple demands on their time.”

Other findings from the research include:

• The percentage of boys ages 12-18 using ADHD drugs reached 9 percent in 2012, a nearly 18 percent increase from 2008.

• The southern region of the U.S. has the highest concentration of ADHD medication use, with South Carolina showing the greatest prevalence overall: 14 percent of 12-18 year olds there are on an ADHD drug treatment program.

• The prescribing of anti-psychotic treatments is exceptionally high among those treated for ADHD (12 percent vs. 4 percent of non-ADHD medication users); however, the number has been declining in recent years.

Continues Dr. Muzina: “While ADHD medications can be extremely beneficial, they can still be dangerous for patients with heart problems, and may cause serious interactions with other prescriptions, as well as conditions such as bipolar disorder.“

That is why, according to the doctor, these types of drugs require judicious prescribing. To that end, patients with ADHD can benefit from the expertise and experience provided through Express Scripts’ Neuroscience Therapeutic Resource Center®, where specialist pharmacists with advanced training in behavioral treatments oversee their care. These experienced clinical specialists are very familiar with the complex medication-related issues associated with ADHD and its treatments, are well equipped to recognize medication issues and can effectively counsel patients on the proper use of these drugs.

With ADHD medication abuse a growing problem, specialist pharmacists are also on the lookout for any indications of potential abuse. If this is suspected, Express Scripts’ Fraud, Waste and Abuse program can investigate and, when necessary, will refer the matter to the proper legal authorities.

The net-net is that ADHD medications should be carefully prescribed and monitored. While so far it is mostly through anecdotal reporting, it seems as if there is a growing concern throughout the U.S. that these drugs are frequently being liberally administered without the proper testing. There certainly are plenty of credible defenders of this surge in growth of their use, but the Express Scripts Report is certainly sobering support for those who are alarmed by the recent upward trend. To access the full report, please visit http://lab.express-scripts.com/prescription-drug-trends/turning-attention-adhd/.

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