Meds at school: ADHD accounts for more than half

Posted at 7:17 PM, Feb 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-13 07:50:02-05

9-year-old Owen Raucci has always been a fist-full of energy.  

"He's constantly on the go," said his mom Meghan.

Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Raucci has been on medication since he was 6.  Mom was diagnosed when she was a child too.

"I could see my struggles and frustrations.  You could sit there and tell him to do something 5 times and it was like he was blank.  He was completely zoned out in his own little world," she told the Contact 5 Investigators.

Owen takes a pill twice a day to manage his ADHD, once at home and once at school.

It's not unusual for students to be given medication at school.  Parents must sign-off on any prescribed medications administered to students within the Palm Beach County school district.  Medications are, typically, given to students by the school nurse.

According to the numbers. over the last 5 years all medications given to students at school are up about 15% the Contact 5 Investigators found after analyzing 5 years worth of data.

But a closer look reveals more than half of all medications given to students at school in the county are drugs to treat ADHD.

"For the past 3 or 4 years it has been about 50-51% of the meds are ADHD related," explained Ginny Keller with the Palm Beach County Health District.  The district tracks all medications given to students by school nurses who are overseen by the health district.

While the data does not reflect how many students received medications, a study by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University found the number of school children diagnosed with ADHD increased 43% between 2003 and 2011.  The study was just released last year.

"It's a problem.  It is a problem," said Dr. Raphi Wald, a clinical neuropsychologist at FAU's Memory and Wellness Center.  He believes these numbers at these numbers locally and nationally reflect a more alarming trend about ADHD.

"It is considered by most mental health professionals to be an over-diagnosed condition," he said.  "Yes it s more diagnosed now then it used to be.  Yes it is diagnosed in some children who truly don't have ADHD but, at the same time, it is better diagnosed in children who truly do have ADHD."

Wald attributes some of the increase in ADHD-diagnosed kids to parents and doctors skipping timely and sometimes costly tests for quick conclusions and even quicker fixes.

"It's easier to treat ADHD with a medication than to treat it with behavioral intervention.  it's an easy way to address the problem right away," he said. 

When asked if doctors bear responsibility since they do the diagnosing Wald responded, "I think good psychologists and psychiatrists need to constantly be looking at themselves and asking themselves how can I do better."

Owen's mom believes children are being over-diagnosed and over-medicated for ADHD.

"What do you say to some who might ask well, you've had your own child diagnosed with ADHD," asked the Contact 5 Investigator Katie LaGrone.

"I guess I'm entrusting everything that my husband and I are doing."

For Owen that meant a one-on-one with their pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a neuropsychological evaluation and visits with a behavioral therapist.

"He's gone from being behind in school to meeting the grade level if not surpassing," said Meghan.

"I feel more focused at school," Owen told us.

Today, Owen has his sights set high knowing his journey with ADHD is just that and he's in it for the long run.

Dr. Raphi Wald advises the best way to determine if your child has ADHD is through a thorough cognitive and psychological evaluation.  

To find out what signs and symptoms you should be looking for in your child.  Click here.