In contrast to claims that children are being overmedicated for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a team of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found that a high percentage of kids with ADHD are not receiving treatment. In fact, almost half of the children who might benefit from ADHD drugs were not getting them.
"What we found was somewhat surprising," says Richard D. Todd, M.D., Ph.D., the Blanche F. Ittleson Professor of Psychiatry and professor of genetics. "Only about 58 percent of boys and about 45 percent of girls who had a diagnosis of full-scale ADHD got any medication at all."
Much has been written about the increasing number of children taking drugs for ADHD. One study found that the percentage of elementary school children taking medication for ADHD more than tripled, rising from 0.6 percent in 1975 to 3 percent by 1987. Another study reported that the number of adolescents taking ADHD drugs increased 2.5 fold between 1990 and 1995. And many reports have noted a rapid increase in the U.S. manufacture of the stimulant drug methylphenidate -- usually sold under the brand names Ritalin or Concerta.
The researchers studied 1,610 twins between the ages of 7 and 17. Of those, 359 met full criteria for ADHD: 302 boys and 57 girls. The total number of boys in the sample was 1,006, and 604 girls were included.
"From a clinical point of view, this study affirms that for whatever reason, many children who could benefit from treatment are not receiving it," says first author Wendy Reich, Ph.D., research professor of psychiatry in the William Greenleaf Eliot Division of Child Psychiatry.
It's possible those children aren't being identified at schools or pediatrician's offices or that their parents are choosing not to put their children on stimulant medication, according to Reich.