NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Treatment for Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) May be Underestimated

February 15, 2002

More than three times as many children as previously estimated may be medicated to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study.

  • Prior studies viewed treatment rates as abnormally high if they exceeded the 3 percent to 5 percent of school age kids.
  • However, many of the previous school-based studies failed to account for those children whose parents medicated them at home using slow-release forms of the stimulants used to treat ADHD kids.
  • But in a study of elementary school children in a North Carolina, parents reported 10 percent of children had been given an ADHD diagnosis and 7 percent were receiving ADHD medication treatment.

Furthermore, the treatment rates varied widely by sex, race-ethnicity and grade level of the student.

  • About 11 percent of the boys in the sample were taking ADHD medication, compared with only 3 percent of the girls.
  • More than 15 percent of the white boys in the fourth and fifth grades were currently taking stimulant medication for ADHD.
  • Among fourth-grade students, the proportion of black boys taking stimulant medication was only about 60 percent that of white boys.

If treatment patterns observed in this study are representative, the public health impact of ADHD -- or its treatment -- may be underestimated.

Source: Andrew S. Rowland, et al., "Prevalence of Medication Treatment for Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder Among Elementary School Children in Johnston County, North Carolina," American Journal of Public Health, February 1, 2002.

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