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More ADHD Children Being Treated With Drugs Than With Therapy: CDC Report

Federal health experts say that the first line of treatment for children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be behavioral therapy. However, according to the findings of a new study, far more children with ADHD are being treated with powerful psychotropic drugs. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released the first national study on the treatment of ADHD in children, which compares therapy to medication and dietary treatments. The researchers found that four out of 10 children were being treated with just drugs alone, compared to one out of 10 being treated with just therapy alone.

The findings were published in the Journal of Pediatrics (PDF) on April 1. The CDC issued a press release announcing the results the same day.

The study looked at ADHD treatments for children ages four through 17 in 2009 and 2010 and what type of therapy they received. According to the findings, about 40% of children were treated with medication alone, 10% with behavioral therapy alone, 30% with a combination of the two and about 10% received dietary supplements. Another tenth of all ADHD children received no treatment at all.

“We do not know what the long-term effects of psychotropic medication are on the developing brains and bodies of little kids. What we do know is that behavioral therapy is safe and can have long-term positive impacts on how a child with ADHD functions at home, in school, and with friends,” CDC Principle Deputy Director Ileana Arias said in a press release. “Because behavioral therapy is the safest ADHD treatment for children under the age of 6, it should be used first, before ADHD medication for those children.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that preschoolers receive behavioral therapy alone for ADHD treatment, and that a combination of medication and behavioral therapy be provided to children with ADHD between the ages of six and 17.

ADHD Drug Overuse Concerns

The study comes amid increasing concerns over the perceived overprescribing of ADHD drugs. The side effects of some ADHD drugs like Ritalin, Dexedrine, and Concerta have been linked to an increased risk of heart problems, weight gain and childhood diabetes, and other health risks.

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.

While some manufacturers paid off doctors to speak on their drugs behalf, others have gone as far as releasing comic books encouraging children to take medication to address ADHD. At some point since 2000, Conners noted that the FDA has cited every major ADHD drug manufacturer for false and misleading advertising about their ADHD drugs.

Those efforts led to $9 billion in sales for the ADHD drug industry in 2012, and 3.5 million children using ADHD medications.

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