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Report Touts Alternatives to Medications for Children with ADHD

Health officials want parents to try behavior therapy for young children with ADHD, instead of giving them medications. (Lorie Gelwick Tuter)
Health officials want parents to try behavior therapy for young children with ADHD, instead of giving them medications. (Lorie Gelwick Tuter)
May 9, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging parents of preschoolers with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, to try behavior therapy first before trying drugs.

The CDC also is asking insurance companies to cover the cost of treatment.

The CDC's principal deputy director Dr. Anne Schuchat says 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," says Schuchat.

Those side effects include irritability and difficulty sleeping.

The drugs also curb hunger, which can stunt growth.

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

"Insurers should cover this," says Schuchat. "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 variation state to state."

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

Dr. Georgina Peacock, director of Division of Human Development and Disability at the CDC, says doctors need to play a role in the decision to try therapy first. She says 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," says Peacock. "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."

More than 6 million U.S. children have been diagnosed with ADHD and a new CDC report shows 75 percent of those children between ages two and five already are taking medication for it.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV