Page last updated at 00:09 GMT, Sunday, 17 January 2010

Adults with ADHD 'struggle to get treatment'

Ritalin is recommended for severe cases of ADHD

Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are struggling to access treatment because of a lack of services, figures suggest.

Prescriptions for drugs to treat the condition fall off significantly in 15-21 year olds, a study has shown.

It suggests that some adults who would benefit from treatment are not getting it, the NHS-funded researchers said.

The government said there were efforts to improve the transition between child and adult mental health services.

Treatment for ADHD in adolescents and young adults is not clear cut, said study leader Professor Ian Wong, from the School of Pharmacy at the University of London.

It was quite clear when we interviewed clinicians that it's a real problem
Professor Ian Wong, study lead

But there is increasing evidence to suggest that the condition, which is associated with inattention and impulsiveness, does not just affect children as was once believed.

Prof Wong said it had been unclear what proportion of young people continue treatment as they get older and the reason for them not taking medication if they stop.

Using data from a large GP database, the researchers found that in 15-21 year olds there is a large drop in those still on the drugs, which include Ritalin.

The figures showed that this decline in prescribing was greater than the reported decline in symptoms - suggesting that people were no longer taking medication when they still had problems.

Access to care

A series of interviews with patients and doctors highlighted that although some patients felt they no longer needed treatment, others wanted it but had difficulty accessing specialist services once they had been discharged from paediatric care.

"The results of our study suggest there is a possibility that treatment is prematurely discontinued in some young adults," says Professor Wong.

"For some, they are still having symptoms but they can't get hold of treatments.

"It was quite clear when we interviewed clinicians that it's a real problem."

National guidelines published in 2008 say drugs should be only used for children and young people with severe ADHD, and it should be in addition to psychological and behavioural interventions.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The transition from child and adolescent mental health services to adult services is a critical point for young people with complex mental health needs including those with ADHD.

"The government is developing support to help young people's and adult services improve these transitions to ensure that both the processes and the models of care meet the needs of young people and their families."

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