There has been a 36-fold increase in the use of medication for attention deficit disorder in Hong Kong over 15 years, indicating the condition has become a major issue in the city, a study has found.
Academics from the University of Hong Kong led an international team of researchers who studied medication prescription rates for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 15 areas of 13 countries.
About 6.4 per cent of children and adolescents are affected by the disorder in Hong Kong, with 10,438 new cases in 2017, according to Department of Health figures.
Children with ADHD show a pattern of inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
The research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, found ADHD medication use had increased overall in the 15 places studied.
“We showed there was a generalised increase in the use of ADHD medications in different populations over 15 years from 2001 to 2015,” Dr Patrick Ip, clinical associate professor at HKU’s department of paediatrics and adolescent medicine, said on Wednesday.
The use of ADHD medications locally rose from one child per 2,500 in 2001 to one per 69 in 2015. In adults, there was a threefold increase, from one per 30,000 in 2001 to one per 10,000 in 2015.
“In Hong Kong, we found there was a 36 times increment of use of ADHD medications among our local population. It’s something rather alarming. That means ADHD has become a major issue in Hong Kong and our prescription [rate] has been increasing year by year,” Ip said.
He also attributed the “phenomenon” to more accurate diagnosis and growing awareness about the importance of treatment.
“Our population also has become more accepting of the use of ADHD medication,” Ip said.
There have been concerns especially in the United States about overprescription of such medication.
“But that is something that we have not found in Hong Kong,” Ip said, adding that medication use locally was within an “acceptable” level.
But Ip said services provided to those with ADHD were insufficient and he urged the government to invest more to support management of patients.
He and study co-author Professor Ian Wong Chi-kei, head of HKU’s department of pharmacology and pharmacy, said there should be comprehensive guidelines on the diagnosis, treatment and education needs of ADHD patients.
Clinical services provided by the Hospital Authority were unlikely to be sufficient to deal with the increasing needs of new patients and ongoing care of current patients, they added.
The medications regulate brain neurotransmitters which patients with ADHD lack.
“But it is also a disease that could be modified or affected by the environment. That’s why we believe we need to be particularly careful at having full support for children during the critical period from three to six years old,” Ip said.
“This is the period when we need to make sure that our kids have sufficient sleep and are not overexposed to digital devices.”
Children with ADHD are more likely to develop other behavioural and mental problems including learning disability, coordination disorder, depression and substance abuse.
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