Failure To Diagnose ADHD Frequently Occurs Among Minorities: Study

Researchers indicate that that doctors may be less likely to diagnose attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children who are African American or Latino, raising troubling questions about the quality of medical treatment received by minorities. 

In a study published online in this month’s edition of the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles indicate that it was less likely for an African American or Latino child to receive an ADHD diagnosis than their white peers, although there is no indication that the disorder occurs less among minorities.

Researchers conducted a sample of 4,297 children and their parents in three waves, collecting diagnosis and medication data from parents of children in the fifth, seventh and tenth grades.

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“Across all waves, African-American and Latino children, compared with white children, had lower odds of having an ADHD diagnosis and of taking ADHD medication, controlling for sociodemographics, ADHD symptoms, and other potential comorbid mental health symptoms,” the researchers reported.

The findings indicated that African American children are less likely to be diagnosed in the fifth, seventh and tenth grades. Latino children were less likely to be diagnosed in the fifth and tenth grades. The researchers determined that the data most likely points to a failure to diagnose the condition in minorities.

“Racial/ethnic disparities in parent-reported medication use for ADHD are robust, persisting from fifth grade to 10th grade,” the researchers concluded. “These findings suggest that disparities may be more likely related to underdiagnosis and undertreatment of African-American and Latino children as opposed to overdiagnosis or overtreatment of white children.”

The study comes at a time when there are concerns about the possibility of such overdiagnosis.

In July 2015, researchers from Columbia University, Yale, and the National Institutes of Health found that 12 out of every 1,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 19 were being prescribed antipsychotics like Risperdal and Abilify, with the largest reason given for such prescriptions being ADHD.

About 15% of all high school-age children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD, but some experts say that number should be closer to 5%.

One early advocate of stimulate treatment for children with ADHD, Dr. Keith Conners of Duke University, said that the rate of children now being diagnosed with ADHD and placed on drug treatments is “preposterous” and called ADHD an epidemic manufactured by drug companies.

Conners and others say that the inflated diagnoses and prescriptions are the result of a 20 year effort by the pharmaceutical industry to cash in on concerned parents hoping that poor grades and typical childhood behavior can be cured with drugs.

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