Magazine article Science News

Study of Stimulant Therapy Raises Concerns

Magazine article Science News

Study of Stimulant Therapy Raises Concerns

Article excerpt

The first long-term effort to track stimulant therapy in a large population of children has generated disturbing results. In particular, the North Carolina-based study finds that most 9-to-16-year-olds receiving Ritalin or other stimulants don't exhibit attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the only condition for which such drugs are approved.

More encouraging, about 3 of 4 kids who were diagnosed with ADHD on the basis of parents' behavioral reports received stimulants, says a team led by psychiatric epidemiologist Adrian Angold of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. Youngsters with ADHD often benefit from these medications, especially if also given behavioral training (SN: 12/18&25/99, p. 388). Still, more than half of all stimulant users in the study fell short of even a relaxed definition of ADHD.

Children prescribed a stimulant typically took it for more than 3 years, regardless of their psychiatric status, the researchers note. Stimulant treatment helped kids with ADHD but had no effect on parent-reported symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity that didn't qualify as ADHD. However, children taking these drugs proved more likely than the others to exhibit muscle tics, a side effect of prolonged stimulant use.

The prevalence of stimulant treatment among all the children doubled over 4 years to nearly 10 percent, supporting other evidence from medical databases of rises in numbers of stimulant prescriptions. "Our findings [also] suggest that current treatment practice in the community is far from optimal," the researchers contend in the August JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY.

"The system for the treatment of ADHD among children and adolescents is broken," comments psychiatrist Kelly Kelleher of the University of Pittsburgh.

Angold's team recruited 1,422 children, ages 9 to 13, from public schools in largely rural parts of western North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains. …

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