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Snyderman: 'Big Pharma' not to blame for rise in ADHD cases

Eleven percent of kids across the country have been diagnosed with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and approximately two thirds of those children take medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman explains reasons for the numbers skyrocketing and addresses whether ADHD is being overdiagnosed.

In just a decade the number of kids diagnosed with ADHD has jumped by 53 percent, with nearly one in five high-school-aged boys being told they have the disorder, according to a new report that analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The skyrocketing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder numbers, according to the analysis by the New York Times, has parents, educators and other experts wondering whether the disorder is being overdiagnosed and healthy kids being unnecessarily treated with powerful stimulants.

“I can’t explain how in one generation why you would see a leap this big,” Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC chief medical editor  told TODAY Tuesday. “But I think we were underdiagnosing it before and I think it’s very easy to overdiagnose it now.”

While some have suggested that the skyrocketing numbers might be due to drug companies pushing ADHD drugs, Snyderman said that’s not the case.

“I have to defend the pharmaceutical industry,” she said. “A lot of people say it’s just ‘Big Pharma’ pushing drugs. No. I think it’s parents who don’t know what to do and doctors who say, ‘fine, try this,’ and .... we have rambunctious boys and we don't have recess.”

Many schools across the country have eliminated daily recess -- a valuable time for antsy kids to blow off steam, in what some child psychology experts say is a misguided attempt to raise standardized test scores.

For parents trying to determine the difference between normal childhood behavior and an attention deficit disorder, finding a doctor who will take the time for a proper examination can be a challenge, Snyderman said. Many parents, educators and doctors may be jumping the gun with kids who are just exhibiting typical boisterous childhood behavior. 

Diagnosing whether a child has ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) requires a “rigorous battery of tests,” Snyderman said.

Synderman knows from personal experience what it’s like to have a kid who’s too energized to focus on schoolwork. 

“Look, I’m one of those parents,” Synderman said. “I’ve been down this road.  I know exactly what this is like.”

 The impact of technology can’t be ignored, Synderman said. Multitasking and daily exposure to fast-moving video games and other digital gadgets may be shortening attention spans, experts have suggested.

"There’s been a technological shift,” she said “If you, as an adult, feel really connected to this and you didn’t even grow up with it, imagine what it is like when you are a 2-year-old and you get your first iPad. You bet their brains are going faster. And they bore more easily.”

However, not every child should be taking powerful stimulants to help them focus, Snyderman said.  “When they are used improperly in kids who don’t need them and in doses that are too high, they can cause psychosis and death,” she said. “But when these medicines are used judiciously, they allow kids to concentrate and do well.”