Objective. To estimate the increased use and the prevalence of methylphenidate (Ritalin) treatment of youth with attention deficit disorder (ADD) during the 1990s.

Design. Using time-trend findings from two large population-based data sources, three pharmaceutical databases, and one physician audit, a best-fit estimate of the usage and the usage trends for methylphenidate treatment over the half decade from 1990 through 1995 was sought.

Setting. Five regions in the United States (US) and the nation as a whole.

Patients. Youths on record as receiving methylphenidate for ADD.

Results. The findings from regional and national databases indicate that on average, there has been a 2.5-fold increase in the prevalence of methylphenidate treatment of youths with ADD between 1990 and 1995. In all, approximately 2.8% (or 1.5 million) of US youths aged 5 to 18 were receiving this medication in mid-1995. The increase in methylphenidate treatment for ADD appears largely related to an increased duration of treatment; more girls, adolescents, and inattentive youths on the medication; and a recently improved public image of this medication treatment.

Conclusion. The database findings presented serve to correct exaggerated media claims of a 6-fold expansion of methylphenidate treatment, although they do not clarify the issue of the appropriateness of this treatment.

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