GROWING numbers of primary pupils are being “parked” on prescription pills to control their behaviour.

Figures have revealed that almost twice as many under-tens are prescribed stimulants today than in 2010.

The use of drugs such as Ritalin to cope with the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is mushrooming prompting some experts to question whether children in Scotland are being over-medicated.

This week The Herald launches a major new investigative series, A Bitter Pill, which questions whether - as a society - our biggest drugs problem might just be that we think pharmaceutical drugs solve all our problems.

Today we begin with a look at the scale of "hyperactive" children in our schools now being treated with tablets.

New NHS figures show just 1,265 under tens were given stimulants such as Ritalin in 2009/10 for ADHD compared to 2,166 in 2015/16 - a rise of 71.2 per cent.

Over the same period the total cost to the NHS of all drugs used to treat ADHD has risen from £1.8 million to £5.7m.


The figures are revealed against a backdrop of growing concern over the way children with ADHD are treated.

Kenny Graham, a spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, which campains for improved services for young people, said: "Reducing stigma and increasing awareness are obvious reasons why there are more people coming forward for treatment, but there are concerns that children are being ‘parked’ on medication due to a lack of accessibility to alternative treatments.

"Children with ADHD experience and process the world in a very different way and going to school can cause enormous distress. It can be overwhelming for youngsters if they can’t concentrate or learn effectively and they may be punished by teachers who are not equipped to understand.

"Medication can make significant change to the life-chance trajectory of these children. Drug therapy is very effective and has a large evidence base to support its use. However, a range of treatments and support as an alternative to such treatment are available."

ADHD is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

It began to emerge as a diagnosable condition in the US in the 1970s and often causes children to suffer low self-esteem, perform poorly at school and have difficulty forming healthy relationships with their family and friends. This can lead to anti-social behaviour and a higher risk of substance abuse.

However, campaign group the ADHD Foundation, believes there are around five times more children suffering from the condition than currently diagnosed.

Mr Graham said children with ADHD often benefited from other treatments such as behaviour therapy and counselling, which could be provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers or other mental health care professionals.

However, when it comes to accessing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services the NHS in Scotland is currently failing to meet an 18-week waiting time target from referral to treatment.

That has led to accusations that a lack of swift access to potential alternatives to medication, such as psychological assessment and treatment, may see doctors prescribe drugs more, when there may be more suitable alternatives.

Mr Graham added: "The best results occur when a team approach is used, with teachers, parents, and therapists or physicians working together."

Addiction expert Professor Jonathan Chick said that in dealing with adolescents with ADHD his team had found that halting all use of stimulant medication to treat ADHD had resulted in improvements for the patients.

He said: “Some think adult ADHD is a different disorder from childhood ADHD. One study showed that only 15 per cent of people diagnosed with childhood ADHD meet the criteria when they reached their 20s.

“That tells us that childhood ADHD can resolve on its own with social and brain maturation.”

Joanna Murphy, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said the overall cost of drug treatments was irrelevant if the choices made were the correct ones, but called for better communication with families.

She said: "Parents need to be given the correct information by schools and health professionals so they know all the options before making a decision on the correct course of action.

Conservative Party health spokesman Miles Briggs described the increase in under 10s being prescribed drugs for ADHD was "deeply concerning".

He said: "While we recognise that there is a place for this medication being used with children suffering from this disorder, prescribed drugs for the very young should only be used as a last resort once all other alternatives, such as behavioural therapies, have been exhausted.

"Parents across Scotland will want answers from the Scottish Government as to why there has been such an increase in the number of young children receiving prescription medication for ADHD and for reassurances that a lack of appropriate therapy options, or delays in accessing these, is not leading to a situation where families are having to resort to medication for children as young as five.

"Every child is different and medication is not a miracle cure and can have many side effects so parents need to know how schools will effectively include children with ADHD on medication or not if it is unsuitable."


A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The decision to prescribe medication is a matter of clinical judgement for a health professional, in consultation with their patient. When medication is considered an appropriate part of treatment it is prescribed in line with good clinical practice, including on-going supervision by health professionals to ensure patients only remain on them as long as appropriate. They are often used alongside treatments such as counselling or psychological therapies.

“Our ambitious 10- year Mental Health Strategy, backed by investment of £150 million over the next five years, sets out clearly how we can improve early intervention, and ensure better access to services. We want people to get the right help at the right time, expect recovery, and fully enjoy their rights, free from discrimination and stigma. Whether in schools, workplaces, communities or care facilities, the strategy will see us take forward an initial 40 actions to shape change.”