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ADHD Preschoolers May be Taking Too Many Meds

Health officials want parents to try behavior therapy for kids with ADHD, instead of giving them medications. (cdc.gov)
Health officials want parents to try behavior therapy for kids with ADHD, instead of giving them medications. (cdc.gov)
May 5, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging parents of preschoolers with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to try behavior therapy first before trying drugs. The CDC also is asking insurance companies to cover the cost of treatment.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC principal deputy director, 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 and can be as effective as medicine, but without the side effects," she said.

Those side effects include irritability and difficulty sleeping. They can also curb hunger, which can stunt growth. More than 6 million U.S. children have been diagnosed with ADHD and a new report out by the CDC shows 75 percent of those children between the age of 2 and 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 cover behavioral therapy, but Medicaid typically does.

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

The full report can be read online here.


Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR