CDC: Stimulant Prescriptions Rose Sharply Among Women
Stimulants prescribed for women with ADHD rose 14% from 2020 to 2021, with particularly noteworthy increases in medication use for women in their 20s and 30s, a new study from the CDC reports.
April 2, 2023
Demand for prescribed stimulants to treat ADHD symptoms increased substantially from 2020 to 2021, especially among women, a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found. Stimulant medication use among women in their 20s and 30s rose 17.5% with the biggest jump among women aged 20-24, 6.2% of whom now take a stimulant medication for ADHD, the CDC said. Notably, stimulant use also rose 16% among women aged 50-54, 2.9% of whom now take medication for ADHD — up from 2.1% in 2016.1
According to the CDC report, more than 10% of all females aged 15–44 and males aged 25–44 filled prescriptions for stimulants commonly used in ADHD treatment in 2020-2021. The CDC arrived at these numbers by analyzing data from the Merative MarketScan Commercial Database, a national convenience sample of deidentified healthcare claims from enrollees in employer-sponsored insurance plans from 2016–2021. The percentage of enrollees with prescription stimulant fills rose from 3.6% in 2016 to 4.1% in 2021.
Rise in Women Diagnosed with ADHD
A spike in ADHD diagnoses among women likely contributes to the jump in stimulant medication prescriptions. The number of women aged 23 to 49 who were diagnosed with ADHD nearly doubled from 2020 to 2022, according to a new study from Epic Research. The health analytics firm reported that, though males are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than are females, the gender gap has decreased during the past 12 years. In 2010, males were 133% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than were females; in 2022, men were 28% more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis. The study analyzed data from 3,389,383 patients diagnosed with ADHD between 2010 and 2022.2
The increase in adult diagnoses and stimulant medication prescriptions aligns with findings from a 2021 ADDitude survey of 2,365 adults, 26.5% of whom said they had received a formal ADHD diagnosis within the last year. What’s more, nearly 22% of adult survey respondents said they began taking ADHD medication for the first time during the pandemic — among newly diagnosed adults, this number was 64%. Only 5.5% of adults said they stopped taking medication and only 4.5% decreased dosage during the pandemic.
Pandemic Influences Demand for Stimulants
Policies enacted during the pandemic, which expanded access to prescription stimulants via telehealth providers, contributed to the increase in stimulant prescriptions. Overall, 56% of adults surveyed by ADDitude reported changes in their treatment team during the pandemic with nearly a quarter using telehealth appointments for the first time. Among newly diagnosed adults, 57% began seeing an ADHD professional for the first time during the pandemic.
According to U.S. Census data from 2022, 22% of Americans have used telehealth services. In a survey of 484 adult ADDitude readers conducted in April 2022, 57% reported using telehealth services and/or mental health apps during the preceding two years. A staggering 97% of the Cerebral users diagnosed with ADHD reported receiving a new prescription, according to the survey. Roughly 59% of those respondents said they were prescribed Adderall; 34% were prescribed Wellbutrin; and less than 10% were prescribed Vyvanse, Strattera, or Ritalin.
This upswing in demand undoubtedly contributed to the ongoing, nationwide Adderall shortage, which began in August 2022 and continues to impact as many as 75% of ADHD patients, according to ADDitude surveys of clinicians and patients conducted late last year and early this year.
1Danielson, M.L., Bohm, M.K., Newsome, K., et al. Trends in Stimulant Prescription Fills Among Commercially Insured Children and Adults — United States, 2016–2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2023;72:327–332. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7213a1
2Russell, J., Franklin, B., Piff, A., Allen, S., and Barkley, E. (2023, March 30). Number of ADHD Patients Rising, Especially Among Women Epic Research. Epic Research. https://epicresearch.org/articles/stimulant-prescribing-rates-remain-steady-for-patients-with-adhd