News Reports

CDC: ADHD Prescriptions Increase 344 Percent Among Adult Women

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that prescriptions for ADHD medications increased more than 300 percent between 2003 and 2015 for women between the ages of 15 and 44.




January 22, 2018

The CDC reported this month that the percentage of young women in the U.S. taking prescribed medication for ADHD increased from 0.9 percent in 2003 to 4 percent in 2015 — an overall growth rate of 344 percent.

Using the Truven Health MarketScan Commercial Database, CDC researchers1 identified prescription drug claims for women between the ages of 15 and 44 from 2003 to 2015. Each year, anywhere from 2.3 million to 6.8 women were included in the data set, with a yearly median of 4.6 million.

The women, as a group, received 344 percent more ADHD prescriptions in 2015 than they had in 2003, the authors found. Women between the ages of 25 and 29 saw the highest rate of increase, at 700 percent. Women in the South increased their prescriptions more than in any other region. By 2015, 60.8 percent of the prescriptions were for mixed amphetamine salts (Adderall), 26.7 percent were for lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), and 18.1 percent were for methylphenidate (Ritalin).

The authors note that ADHD medication use during pregnancy has been increasing, despite mixed evidence regarding the safety for a developing fetus. The report, which examined women of reproductive age, aimed to “quantify the population at risk for potential exposure” — particularly considering that almost half of U.S. pregnancies are reportedly unplanned.

The data relied solely on private insurance databases, the authors said, excluding a large number of women who don’t have insurance or who are insured through Medicaid. The authors were also unable to track whether women actually took the medications after they were prescribed.

Despite these limitations, the results may still be cause for concern, the authors write. “The substantial increase in the percentage of reproductive-aged women filling ADHD medication prescriptions… is of public health concern given the high percentage of unintended pregnancies and uncertainty concerning the safety of ADHD medication exposure before and during pregnancy.”

A large study2 recently concluded that ADHD medications only slightly increased the risk of prenatal abnormalities if taken during pregnancy. Still, the potential risks — as well as the risks to the mother associated with leaving her ADHD untreated — remain largely unknown.

“Early pregnancy is a critical time for the developing baby,” said Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, in a news release. “We need to better understand the safest ways to treat ADHD before and during pregnancy.”


1 Anderson, Kayla N., et al. “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Medication Prescription Claims Among Privately Insured Women Aged 15-44 Years — United States, 2003-2015.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 67, no. 2, 2018, pp. 66–70., doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6702a3.
2 Cohen, Jacqueline M., et al. “Placental Complications Associated With Psychostimulant Use in Pregnancy.” Obstetrics & Gynecology, vol. 130, no. 6, 2017, pp. 1192–1201., doi:10.1097/aog.0000000000002362.

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  1. The better the screening method the closer the ratio of male/female diagnosis. It is far more likely that women are not diagnosed because the diagnosis is based on how ADHD presents in boys. I am a male diagnosed at age 60, if I had not had “boy” symptoms as a child I never would have gotten treatment. The final symptom that made me seek treatment was hyperactive mental activity that I thought was anxiety for years. Good luck to a woman with anxiety getting a prescription for the right medicine, which for me was amphetamines. Anti depressants were a disaster for me. I have never seen any explanation why women would biologically be less likely to have ADHD although there are arguments that the symptoms may display differently.

  2. Well this article was a complete let-down. I thought it was going to go on to explain the REASON for such a significant increase over the years! Maybe mention how so many girls and women weren’t properly diagnosed for years and years, and so many women out there battle shame, guilt, etc. because they think there’s something wrong with them and don’t know why…but THAT?! THAT’s all the author has to say? I’m sick to stomach right now after reading this.

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