Switzerland: Ritalin prescriptions explode, experts worry

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The Swiss are consuming more and more Ritalin, which is prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Experts sound the alarm.

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Marino Walser

Daniel Graf

Seline Bietenhard

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In Switzerland, the sale of ADHD drugs has increased significantly.

20 minutes / Simon Glauser

Impulsivity, excessive movement and poor concentration: When children and adults show such symptoms, it is not uncommon for a doctor to certify them as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

But now the health insurance companies are sounding the alarm: never before have so many ADHD medications been prescribed in Switzerland. According to a recent press release from the health insurance company Swica, five years ago almost 50% fewer people were treated with Ritalin or similar active ingredients than in 2021. Several other large health insurance companies have confirmed these figures to our colleagues at “20 minutes”.

The Swiss Association for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) defines this pathology as a behavioral and learning disorder that begins in childhood and adolescence. ADHD manifests itself as problems with attention and impulsivity, sometimes accompanied by hyperactivity.

According to Thomas Müller from the Swiss ADHD Society, one of the reasons for this increase is the pressure to perform in our society. “Society must optimize itself with the help of medicines.” However, he points out: “In the vast majority of cases, drug treatment is justified,” says Thomas Müller.

But according to the expert, there are also diagnostic errors. These would be due in particular to the large number of medical examinations carried out. “Today, many more people can be tested for ADHD than 15 years ago,” says Thomas Müller. Not only the pressure to perform, but also the awareness of the disorder lead to many diagnoses, he says.

A phenomenon on TikTok

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has become a “fashion disease”. According to Thomas Müller, radio and television are not solely responsible for raising awareness. Social media also contribute to this. Just take a look at video platform TikTok to spot it. There’s a real buzz about ADHD. In various videos, young people talk about how they realized they had ADHD.

According to Susanne Walitza, a child psychiatrist at the University Clinic for Psychiatry in Zurich, this enthusiasm can also be observed in adults. She explains the increase in drug treatments like this: “Fifteen years ago it was thought that ADHD would fade over time. Anyone who was a child back then is now being tested for ADHD as an adult.”

“Consider other treatment options”

Health expert Felix Schneuwly calls this drastic increase frightening: “If the phenomenon continues to increase, we will have to think about other treatment options. It is unacceptable for an entire society to be on drug treatment. We have a social problem with stress and mental illness that we cannot solve with medicine alone,” says Felix Schneuwly.

“Addiction can arise”

Philipp Ramming, former President of the Swiss Society for Child and Adolescent Psychology, is also concerned about this development: “Ritalin can help, but it must always be accompanied by counseling and therapeutic measures.” But for years and even more clearly with the corona virus, child and adolescent psychologists have been overburdened. Adequate care would no longer always be guaranteed. “If professionals were paid more so they could have more time, there would most likely be fewer Ritalin prescriptions.”

Due to the excessive workload, specialists often have no choice but to prescribe the drug without therapy. “It’s an absolute lottery then. That can help, but it can also mean that only the symptoms are treated for years and that addiction to the drug sets in,” warns Philipp Ramming.

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