Tablets of the hyperactivity drug Adderall. The use of medication to treat ADHD is much more common in Québec than elsewhere in Canada, statistics show.
A group of 48 pediatricians and researchers is denouncing the sharp increase in the number of Quebec children being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the use of medication to treat it.
The group is calling on all involved – including parents, teachers, psychologists and doctors – to rethink their decision making when it comes to whether a child should be medicated to treat problems behaviors.
In an open letter, the health experts deplore how society has become too comfortable with the use of medication as a response to behavioural issues.
Citing statistics from the National Institute of Excellence in Health and Social Services, they also argue that the use of medication to treat ADHD is much more common in Québec than in other parts of Canada.
Among 10- to 12-year-olds, 13.97 percent of young people use psychostimulant medications in Quebec. That rate rises to 14.5 percent among 13- to 17-year-olds. In the rest of the country, rates for the same age groups are just 5.08 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively.
Pediatrician Guy Falardeau says the trend is worrying because it shows parents are increasingly trying to treat children with medication instead of looking for other causes related to mental health, emotions and the social environment of the child.
When a child has a behavioral issue, we prefer to just call it ADHD and give them medication. "
"When a child has a behavioral issue, we prefer to just call it ADHD and give them medication instead of questioning why they're acting the way they are," Falardeau said.
"The danger is that in some cases we're actually treating ADHD, but in others, we're simply masking a mental health issue."
Falardeau warns that masking anxiety or other disorders with medication ends up postponing the moment when the issue inevitably explodes. Mental illnesses are harder to treat the longer they've had to progress, he noted.
"What we want is for children to be properly assessed," he said. "We must help those who have emotional or social issues, not change the child's behaviour with medication."
Parents who spoke to La Presse Canadienne all argued that the problem is mostly "schooling issue."
The parents of one boy who could not sit still when he started school said they were quickly alerted about the problem and told to consider medication.
"They were not pressing us, but we felt like we needed to do something," the father said.
A few consultations later, they were told their son had ADHD. A prescription for medication was followed soon after.
But the medication, the father said, only worked for the duration of the school day. On nights and nights, his son does not take any medication and is fine. "He's moving, he's doing sports."
The father said he wonders if the real issue is whether children are expending enough energy at school.