In 2006, only 179 children under seven were prescribed drugs to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
But by 2011, that figure had ballooned to 551 children taking drugs such as Ritalin, Concertina and Strattera, according to figures from Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen).
In Stockholm, the number of young children on ADHD drugs has increased five-fold in the past five years, from 11 to 53, making it the region in the country with the greatest increase
This comes despite recommendations from doctors that such young children should not be given such drugs.
“It’s the doctor’s responsibility to decide if the child needs medicine or not, regardless of the recommendations. But it’s kind of a last resort to give it to children who are so young,” said Olav Bengtsson, head of the child and youth psychiatry (Barn- och ungdomspsykiatrin, BUP), to the Dagens Nyheter newspaper (DN).
According to the statistics, the figures are highest of all in Stockholm County. In terms of total cases where doctors have prescribed ADHD medicine to children under seven, 184 children from Stockholm County were given prescriptions in 2011.
These numbers correspond with 91 children for every 100,000 in Stockholm County, compared 70 per 100,000 in Sweden as a whole, up from 29 and 25 respectively from 2006.
Bengtsson points out that today’s parents are becoming more attentive and more demanding that a child is examined when something is wrong.
He adds that while the prescriptions are growing, this does not mean an increase in cases of the disorder.
“We test nearly 2,000 children in Stockholm a year, and these 53 cases represent a very small figure in relation to the total. We discover twice as many children with ADHD today compared with the past five years, but this doesn’t mean the illness is growing,” he told DN.
And giving such medicine to children is no quick decision for doctors either.
“One often tries other alternatives first, without success. A little child who is given medicine for ADHD is often extremely hyperactive.”