Will ADHD Patch Mean More Over-Prescribed Kids?

April 8, 2006 — -- Randy Topps' son Brian wore the new ADHD patch on his skin, just above the hip, for nine hours a day during a clinical trial. It proved to be a lot easier for Brian and his mother than daily pills to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"He doesn't like swallowing pills," Topps said. "Sometimes he couldn't even keep them down. And with the patch, I could put it on in the morning and he never complained."

The patch contains the same active ingredient as Ritalin. But because it's a patch, parents can better control the timing of the medication during the day.

"When he got home from school, if he didn't have homework we could take it off right away," Topps said. "Or if he did have homework, I could let him do homework and then take it off."

"This is one of the first times that we have the opportunity to actually turn off the medication effect later in the day," said Dr. Timothy Willens of Massachusetts General Hospital.

But not everyone is keen on the patch. Some doctors warn that children will now be prescribed another ADHD medication that many do not need.

"This is a legitimate condition, but it's close to just rambunctiousness in kids," said Dr. David Katz, a medical contributor to ABC News' "Good Morning America" and a professor at Yale University Medical School. "I have concerns with the societal factors that are causing the increase of this. Five percent of kids have this condition. In a classroom of 20 kids, there's going to be one kid with this."

A Common Condition

Almost one out of every 10 12-year-old boys in the United States is believed to be on ADHD medicine.

"Many of us think that's way too many," said Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. "The drugs are being massively over-utilized. And now, we're likely, potentially, to see even greater use."

"Harsh critcs will say it's easier for a drug company to invent a disease than a cure," Katz said.

Katz said he thinks that the condition is related in part to a diet of junk food and lack of physical activity.

"We are eliminating phys-ed in schools," he said. "We're eliminating recess. I don't think Ritalin should be an alternative to recess. … I have a perfectly healthy 6-year-old son. If you keep him cooped up too long, though, he starts to bounce off the walls himself."

Nissen, an adviser to the Food and Drug Administration, warns that ADHD medications -- whether a patch or a pill -- are stimulants that raise blood pressure.

"We simply don't know in the long run whether these children are going to have sustained hypertension, that is high blood pressure, as adults," he said.

Most experts say children should only be given ADHD medication as a last resort and only at the lowest effective dose. Doctors say almost any child now taking pills for ADHD would be a candidate for the patch, which should arrive in pharmacies by early July.