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David Baxter PhD

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U.S. guide helps parents make decisions on ADHD drugs
Tue Oct 2, 2007
By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - When the diagnosis is attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, the question most parents face is: To medicate or not to medicate?

A new parents' guide to ADHD drugs, released on Tuesday by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association, may offer some help.

It comes in the wake of recent warnings by U.S. regulators about potential heart risks and some other serious side effects associated with ADHD drugs.

"Parents are frightened about medication now," said Soleil Gregg of the advocacy group Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

"I think this guide provides some very balanced information about risks, benefits and how to judge what is best for your child ... whether that includes drug treatment or not," Gregg said.

Millions of people take drugs for ADHD, which is marked by restlessness, impulsiveness, inattention and distractibility that can interfere with a child's ability to pay attention in school and maintain social relationships.

The ADHD Parents Medication Guide, available at, was developed by mental health professionals and parent advocacy groups, with no drug company funding.

The guide lists some of the most common side effects of current stimulant drugs to treat ADHD including reduced appetite, weight loss, trouble sleeping, headaches, stomach pain and irritability. Rare and serious side effects include heart-related problems, hallucinations and agitation, suicidal thoughts and liver problems, it said.

The guide also takes on questions about the risk for addiction, and even offers some help on how parents can enlist help from their child's school.

The typical treatment for ADHD is with a drug like Ritalin, or methylphenidate, a stimulant intended to lower impulsiveness and hyperactivity and boost attention.

Many groups have claimed that children are being over-medicated for this condition.

Dr. Adelaide Robb, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, said psychiatrists typically recommend medication only after a full evaluation, starting with the lowest dose and working up to an effective dose while monitoring side effects.

"We are not here to medicate children into being zombies in the classroom," Robb told reporters at a televised media briefing from Washington.

"We are here to help them focus and pay attention so they are able to learn, and when they are teens, to help them pay attention in traffic."

A study published last month found fewer than half of the more than 2 million U.S. children who meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD receive treatment.
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