“Women with ADHD Deserve Better — and More — Analysis”
ADHD medication prescriptions among women are growing faster than any other segment of the population today. A new study reveals a staggering growth rate, but little else. Could I possibly be the only one asking why?
In early 2018, the Centers for Disease Control released a report revealing that the number of young adult women prescribed ADHD medication increased by 344 percent in a 12-year period. The study looked at data from private insurers in the U.S. between 2003 and 2015; the sample included more than 4 million women per year.
According to The New York Times, ADHD prescription rates during that period increased “by 700 percent among women aged 25 to 29, and by 560 percent among women aged 30 to 34.” The 344 percent increase referred to women ages 15 through 44.
As noted in The Guardian, “The large increase among women in their 20s and 30s, considered the optimal age for having children, raised concern among physicians.”
In fact, seemingly every article regarding the study was about the safety of women taking medications while expecting a child or during childbearing years. This is perhaps not surprising, given how the study’s researchers framed its results in their research summary: “Given that half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended, ADHD medication use among reproductive-aged women might result in early pregnancy exposure, a critical period for fetal development.”
The potential impact of taking ADHD medications during pregnancy has been the subject of much contemplation (here, here, and here) on my part. And I agree that this topic should be the object of scientific inquiry and later journalistic reportage on the results.
Here’s the thing, though: Focusing on how an increase in ADHD medication prescriptions among women affects only fetal safety comes at the expense of other vital considerations and their implications. This study’s narrow focus on the fetus reduces women to their reproductive function. And that’s just not cool.
Not to mention, in 2016, the U.S. fertility rate was the lowest it has ever been.
Plus, being unable to see the forest for the baby-making trees misses a golden opportunity to gain insight into the changing face of ADHD.
According to The Guardian, about 4 percent of adults have ADHD, “but those numbers have increased over time, as awareness of the diagnosis has grown.”
No one else seems to wonder what exactly has led to this upswing in ADHD scrips among women of my generation. I, however, am curious in light of the fact that girls with ADHD often go undiagnosed until well into adulthood.
Sadly, this new study provides very little new information about U.S. women and ADHD medication usage.
First of all, we don’t know how many women in the sample took their medication for ADHD, rather than for other conditions — and not a related condition such as anxiety or narcolepsy. Also, the data don’t illustrate how many women actually took the medications they were prescribed. Finally, the data only concern women with private insurance, even though many people with disabilities (30 percent of all adults with disabilities and 60 percent of all children with disabilities) receive government-subsidized health coverage, i.e., Medicaid.
Meanwhile, there has been little attention paid to the fact that, while stimulant prescriptions have skyrocketed, prescriptions for non-stimulants (Strattera and Intuniv) have remained relatively stagnant. What might account for this?
And why do I seem to be the only one asking?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad the CDC deemed women with ADHD worthy of study, and the results of that study worthy of analysis. But it’s essential that researchers stop viewing ADHD women solely in relation to pharmaceuticals and reproduction.
Government scientists need to learn that women with ADHD are a highly misunderstood population. And it’s incumbent upon them to make us better understood by continuing to investigate them in a research context.
A version of this post was originally published on ADHDrew.com.
Updated on May 28, 2019