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America May Be Overmedicating Children Who Have ADHD

About 6.4 million children from ages 2 to 5 are being treated for ADHD symptoms, and a new report by the CDC says three-quarters of them are taking medication. (Lorie Gelwick Tuter)
About 6.4 million children from ages 2 to 5 are being treated for ADHD symptoms, and a new report by the CDC says three-quarters of them are taking medication. (Lorie Gelwick Tuter)
May 4, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging parents of preschoolers with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to try behavior therapy first before trying drugs, and is asking insurance companies to cover the cost of treatment.

The CDC's principal deputy director, Dr. Anne Schuchat, said long-term effects of drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin on young brains and bodies haven't had a lot of study.

"Behavior therapy has been shown to help improve symptoms in young children with ADHD," she said, "and can be as effective as medicine, but without the side effects. "

Those side effects include irritability and difficulty sleeping. They also can curb hunger, which can stunt growth. More than 6 million U.S. children have been diagnosed with ADHD. and a new report from the CDC shows 75 percent of those children from ages 2 to 5 already are taking medication for it.

The report has guidelines for parents and health-care providers to try therapy first. Schuchat said not all private health-insurance companies will cover behavioral therapy, but Medicaid typically does.

"Insurers should cover this," she said. "We believe that Medicaid really makes an effort to make sure that the full package of recommended behavioral services are covered, but there still may be some variations state to state."

The report found that 54 percent of children on Medicaid received psychological services each year, while 45 percent of children with private plans did.

Dr. Georgina Peacock, director of the CDC's Division of Human Development and Disability, said doctors need to play a role in the decision about trying therapy first. She said it could mean the child can avoid taking the medications altogether, or the age that they start taking them can be postponed, "because that really lays the foundation.

"There may be times when medicine will be added to the treatment," she added, "but having this behavioral therapy first really will make a difference for families."

The report is online at cdc.gov.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD