- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) | Children on medicine for attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder scored higher on academic tests than their unmedicated peers in the first large, long-term study suggesting this kind of benefit from the widely used drugs.

The nationally representative study involved nearly 600 children with ADHD, followed from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Children’s scores on several standardized math and reading tests taken during those years were examined. Compared with unmedicated children, average scores for medicated children were almost three points higher in math and more than five points higher in reading. The difference amounts to about three months ahead in reading and two months in math, the researchers said.

Both groups had lower scores on average than a separate group of children without ADHD. The researchers acknowledged that gap but said the benefits for medicated youngsters were still notable.

“We’re not trying to say in this study that medication is the only answer,” but the results suggest benefits that parents, educators and policymakers shouldn’t ignore, said Richard Scheffler, lead author of the study and professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

The researchers agreed that other treatments ADHD children often receive - including behavior therapy and tutoring - can help, but the study didn’t look at those measures.

Most ADHD drug users in the study were on stimulants; the study didn’t identify which ones.

About 4 million U.S. children have been diagnosed with ADHD. About half of them take prescription medication - often powerful stimulants like Ritalin - to control the extreme fidgetiness and impulsive behavior that characterize the condition.

Often, children with ADHD struggle in class and get lower grades than their classmates. They also have higher dropout rates.

American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines say stimulant drugs are effective but that behavior techniques should also be used.

Teachers often advocate medication because it can calm disruptive behavior. But it’s a contentious issue for many parents, worried about putting their children on drugs that can have side effects including decreased appetite, weight loss and insomnia.

Previous evidence suggests teachers give higher grades to ADHD children on medication, but the study authors said that might simply mean teachers prefer the students because they’re better behaved than unmedicated children.

They said theirs is the largest, longest-duration study based on objective standardized academic tests, suggesting that medicated children may be better learners, too.

Psychiatrist Bennett Leventhal, who was not involved in the study, called the results impressive.

“It doesn’t mean that every child with ADHD should be taking medication,” but previous studies have suggested that most affected children can benefit, said Dr. Leventhal, a University of Illinois at Chicago psychiatry professor.

The study appears in the May issue of Pediatrics, to be released Monday. A federal grant paid for the research; the authors said they have no financial ties to ADHD drugmakers.

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