ADHD Diagnoses In Black Children Increases By 70 Percent—Along With the Use Of Strong Meds

African American and Hispanic children have seen a jump in their diagnosis rates for Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder—a trend that comes as more psychiatrists are prescribing antipsychotic drugs some researchers argue haven’t been proven to accurately treat ADHD.

A recent study by Kaiser Permanente found that the overall rate of ADHD diagnoses for children increased 24 percent, from 2.5 precent in 2001 to 3.1 percent in 2010. But when broken down by race and ethnicity, black children saw a 70 percent increase in ADHD diagnosis over that nine-year period, while Hispanic children saw a 60 percent increase.

Darios Gatahun, a researcher and author of the study, says diagnosis rates could have increased because parents and physicians are more aware of the disorder and have increased access to preventative health screenings and treatment. Some experts argue that this is a step in the right direction because it means more children with the neurobehavioral disorder are likely to be treated, reducing their chances for missing school, becoming injured or having difficulty learning. 

Still, I can’t help but recall a Columbia University study last year that showed the number of children and teens taking antipsychotic medications has skyrocketed in recent years, with psychiatrists prescribing the drugs in nearly one in three visits with kids. They’re intended to treat schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, but are routinely prescribed to treat the much more neurologically tame ADHD. Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University who studied the numbers, rang the alarm: “Practice has overstepped research,” he said. “These rapidly rising rates of antipsychotic treatment in young people should give physicians pause.”

Note: ADHD is not my lane. Though we have a few children in our lives who grapple with the disorder, neither of my daughters have it. And so I sit in no position to judge the choices of psychiatrists, educators and parents who are making the diagnoses and deciding on treatment. Still, I’m a black mother in America—a woman who knows about the American medical establishment’s sick, twisted history of experimenting on unwilling, unwitting black folk in the name of science. Remember the government’s Tuskegee experiment? Heard about the 1990s drug experiments on African American and black Dominican boys to determine whether they are genetically predisposed to “disruptive behavior?” How much do you know about the 1940s and ’50s Norplant sterilization experiments on young black girls in Baltimore? Right.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I look askance and question why there’s been a 70 percent increase in the numbers of black children diagnosed with ADHD, right around the time that psychiatrists are upping the ante on prescribing powerful drugs that weren’t designed for ADHD and haven’t been researched enough to justify their use for the disorder. All I’m saying is be careful with your babies. Be smart with your children. Be your kid’s advocate. Study these things for yourself. Get second opinions and third and fourth ones, too. As if your child’s life depends on it. Because it does.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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