Proof that ADHD is under-diagnosed

A common bit of hysteria that regularly screams from Australian newspapers is that ADHD is over-diagnosed and over-medicated. The media would have you believe that we are popping stimulant medications at alarming rates. Because Western Australia is a leading state in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, our rates of prescription for ADHD medications have often been higher than other Australian states. This caused a government department to ESTIMATE in 2002 that 4.2% of WA children were taking stimulant medication. Such a figure would have been quite in line with the international prevalence rate of ADHD, which is 4-7% for children, and 4% for adults. However, it was deemed inappropriate, and led to a parliamentary inquiry into the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in the state.

One outcome of that inquiry was the annual auditing of ADHD prescription rates in Western Australia. Yes – we count every stimulant pill we take. In fact, before anyone can be given a prescription for stimulant medication, they have to sign a consent from – granting the government permission to collect this data.

As a result of this careful counting we now know that the highest prescription rate of ADHD medication in Western Australian children was 1.56% (in 2004). The grossly inaccurate estimate of 4.2% assumed that 82% of medications were being prescribed for children. However, the audits have consistently shown that around 50% of ADHD medications are prescribed for children, and 50% for adults. Sadly, despite these figures being available on government websites, the media have chosen not to rectify the public misconception that ADHD is over-diagnosed and over-medicated. They have even allowed some to claim that the rates have been reduced from 4.2%.

The Western Australian Health Department has today released the report detailing stimulant prescription rates in 2012. It informs us that 1.24% of children are prescribed stimulant medication, and 0.53% of adults. If I could perform a miracle, I would have the media inform the public that, according to the NHMRC, this is a very small portion of the 4-7% of Australian children who have the symptoms. I would also have them inform the public that the NHMRC acknowledges the prevalence rate of ADHD in adults is 4.4%, proving that ADHD is seriously under-treated in adults as well. Finally, I would have them tell the world that ADHD is a serious condition if left untreated. As the NHMRC says, “ADHD is associated with a range of adverse outcomes including educational, social, emotional and behavioural problems during childhood, and subsequent mental health, relationship, occupational, substance, abuse antisocial, and offending problems in adult life. The flow-on effects of ADHD can have a significant impact on families, schools, workplaces and the community.”