Dosing Underachievers; Our View; Are ADHD Drugs Right for Academic Problems?; OPINION

Article excerpt

The furor began in October when Dr. Michael Anderson, a pediatrician who treats mostly children from low-income families in Georgia, said that he routinely prescribed ADHD medications for kids struggling in school.

Red flags went up more recently when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data last month that said Missouri is second only to Mississippi in the percentage of kids who are prescribed medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder diagnosis.

The study indicated that Missouri doctors also may be making the ADHD diagnosis too frequently. The data show that nearly 9 percent of children in Missouri have been diagnosed with ADHD, and that 80 percent of them take prescription drugs for the behavioral disorder.

Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a child mental-health services researcher at Washington University and an expert in prescription drug use among low-income children, said there are circumstances in which prescribing medication is a doctors only recourse to help a child struggling in school.

But he added that society should not force doctors into those situations, and should make available other methods to improve school environments and help families and children who are finding it difficult to thrive academically.

Dr. Raghavan said drugs are the first line of treatment for a reliable ADHD diagnosis, but making the diagnosis can be difficult. Frequently a child will have an underlying problem such as a reading disorder or a learning problem that looks like ADHD but isnt, he added.

In such cases, the stimulants prescribed for ADHD will not help the child and may result in the child not being treated for the real problem.

Adequate treatment for behavioral disorders and learning difficulties, including easy access to mental health care, is critical, Dr. Raghavan said. Availability should not depend on geography or income, he added.

Its really immoral. We absolutely should be making investments in our kids. They should be able to have early and rapid treatment, and it should be sustained through childhood and adolescence, he said. It is unfair that a child in poor circumstances does not have the same access to treatment as a child in better circumstances. Where you live should not determine the care you get.

Dr. Anderson, the Georgia pediatrician, explained that he diagnosed kids with ADHD so he could give them the medicine. But he said the real problem is bad schools and a culture that refuses to spend the money needed to fix them. …