BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's another dubious distinction for the Bayou State. Louisiana has the second highest rate of ADHD prescription use in the country, with 4.7 percent of the population taking drugs like Ritalin and Adderall. Among children aged 4 to 17, that rate shoots up to 10.4 percent. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) medication use overall has risen 35.5 percent from 2008 to 2012, while young adult use has nearly doubled.
After studying the issue for six months at the urging of the Legislature, the Department of Health and Hospitals held a free ADHD symposium in Baton Rouge. Parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and others were invited to share stories and brainstorm solutions to reverse the trend.
"I talked to a pediatrician a couple of weeks ago who said the family comes in there and says, 'So my child is not doing well in school…hyperactive as can be…we need to try something, and they'll just write a script,'" said DHH secretary Kathy Kliebert. "And that doesn't happen all the time, but it does happen."
Experts say a good assessment and diagnosis is the first step, but Louisiana faces a shortage of child psychologists and psychiatrists. Poverty also plays a big role in the south.
"There are other factors. State-based policy, educational policies. There's been some really good work that shows that states that have high-stake testing policies have much higher rates of ADHD medication treatment," said Susanna Visser, an epidemiologist who serves as Acting Director of Science in the Division of Human Development and Disability at the Centers for Disease Control.
Once a diagnosis is made, parents and doctors should consider behavioral therapy, either instead of medication or alongside it. In states with more therapy programs – like Pennsylvania – use of medication is dropping.
"We know that behavioral therapy is very very effective," Visser said. "We know that it improves the dynamic in the entire household, and has roll-off effects: that child is doing better at school, with friends. And we also know you can avoid all the side effects of ADHD medication."
She also said behavioral therapy is more cost-effective for the two-thirds of children with ADHD and a co-occuring condition. Medication treatment is only more cost-effective for children with ADHD alone.
Kliebert said most of what Louisiana needs to do will not require legislation, rather education and incentives to keep doctors and other professionals from jumping ship.
"If we provide a reimbursement rate that is more comparable to the private sector, which again is what we've done in our autism rates, we think that will help in terms of getting people to not just come here, but stay here," she said.
Nationwide, 194,000 preschoolers (ages 2 to 5) are currently diagnosed with ADHD. 77,000 of those take ADHD medication.