Is wrong for doctors to prescribe attention-boosting drugs for mentally healthy kids who misuse them as a means of achieving better grades at school, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) announced in a public statement.

It is a doctor’s duty to promote a child’s ‘authentic’ development. Children need protection from coercion from peers or parents, the AAN added.

Teens often use these “study drugs” (ADHD medications) when they don’t actually meet the criteria for the disorders the medications are supposedly prescribed for.

Recently there has been a growing trend of parents asking doctors to prescribe ADHD medications for their mentally-healthy kids so they can achieve better results in their exams. The drugs work by improving cognitive functioning among those with disorders that can severely impair a person’s ability to concentrate, learn and function properly.

Over the past few years, the AAN has been analyzing all the research available concerning the real extent of children – who don’t need to use them – taking study drugs.

William Graf, MD, of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said:

“Doctors caring for children and teens have a professional obligation to always protect the best interests of the child, to protect vulnerable populations, and prevent the misuse of medication. The practice of prescribing these drugs, called neuroenhancements, for healthy students is not justifiable.”

The statement is backed by research that highlights the ethical and legal reasons why prescribing mind-enhancing drugs (such as ADHD drugs) for people who don’t need them is ‘misguided’.

Don’t prescribe drugs for treating ADHD to mentally healthy children, doctors told

Many people believe that the huge increase in ADHD drug prescriptions has led to more recreational use of such medications, which in turn results in more hospital emergency department visits. A study carried out by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) reported that the number of emergency department visits involving ADHD medications increased from 13,379 in 2005 to 31,244 in 2010 (a rise of more than 100%).

It is important to note that there is a difference when considering children and adolescents, as opposed to independent adults who make decisions for themselves. A child’s parent(s) or guardian is usually the decision-maker on such matters.

Some of the reasons why it is wrong to prescribe neuroenhancement drugs among children who do not need them include:

Graf concluded:

“The physician should talk to the child about the request, as it may reflect other medical, social or psychological motivations such as anxiety, depression or insomnia. There are alternatives to neuroenhancements available, including maintaining good sleep, nutrition, study habits and exercise regimens.”

Abuse of prescription stimulants is an ever-growing problem in the United States. The number of college students who illicitly use drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin is alarmingly high.

Close to 12 percent of children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the USA. A previous study, “Adolescent Prescription ADHD Medication Abuse is Rising Along With Prescriptions for These Medications,” found that abuse of ADHD medications is on the rise, and stresses the importance for pediatricians to understand that when more ADHD prescriptions are written, there is also more abuse.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist