Figures compiled for The Globe and Mail by IMS Health, an independent firm that tracks pharmaceutical sales, show prescriptions for Ritalin and other amphetamine-like drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder shot up to 2.9 million in 2009, a jump of more than 55 per cent in four years.
More than two million were written specifically for children under 17 - a leap of 43 per cent since 2005 - and at least 75 per cent of them were for young males - a ratio some see as evidence that society is making a malady of boyhood itself.
"What if we were drugging girls at the same rate?" asks Jon Bradley, education professor at McGill University. "What if [the majority]of these prescriptions were being written for girls? There'd be a march."
The figures seem to suggest a spike of epidemic proportions. But an analyst with IMS Brogan, a division of IMS Health, says the four-year snapshot is emblematic of a drug category that for more than a decade has surged annually in Canada by 10 to 13 per cent. While total prescriptions, worth $249-million, do not represent the number of people taking the drugs, a per capita breakdown of daily doses shows a similar escalation.
"It certainly suggests the drugs are being abused," says Gordon Floyd, president and CEO of Children's Mental Health Ontario. "There's a desire for the quick fix … the idea that - 'oh, we'll fix this with a pill' - rather than spend a few months in counselling, is pretty appealing."