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New ADHD Drugs -- New Problems

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WebMD Health News

Sept. 7, 2001 -- New, once-a-day, Ritalin-type drugs are here. Newer drugs are on the way. So why is this a problem for America's 3 million kids with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

It's no longer just a question of whether drug treatment is best for a child with the mixed bag of symptoms that make up ADHD. Now it's a question of which treatment -- and whether it's appropriate for companies to advertise the new prescription drugs on TV and in popular magazines.

Will the ads -- the first to be run for drugs with the potential for abuse -- go too far in trying to grab the lion's share of the soon-to-be $1-billion-a-year ADHD drug market? Will they fool parents into a one-size-fits-all mentality? Will mothers and fathers override doctors' advice and demand the drug whose ads they like best?

The ADHD experts who spoke with WebMD don't endorse the ads -- but they don't condemn them either.

"The usual way of giving ADHD medications won't be affected much by the way these ads describe drugs to parents or to doctors," says psychologist James M. Swanson, PhD, professor of pediatrics and director of the child development center at the University of California, Irvine. "Instead of focusing on advertising, we should think about the need for [managed-care] providers to give physicians more time to evaluate and discuss a child's ADHD with parents so they can feel secure in their decisions."

Psychologist Mark Stein, PhD, directs the ADHD program at National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He says the ads do a good job of increasing ADHD awareness -- particularly since more than 8 out of 10 children with ADHD improve after taking Ritalin or similar stimulant-type drugs, he says.

"One thing I am concerned about is that the media has not focused on ADHD success stories," Stein tells WebMD. "We have had a treatment around for 50 years that is quite safe and effective, but that hasn't been emphasized. Consumers have a difficult time sorting out fact from fallacy. We have to spend a lot of time educating families. We have to say, 'No, stimulants don't lead to drug abuse. No, they don't lead to nervous tics.'

"Untreated ADHD has a bad outcome. We should be treating it aggressively," he adds. "There is a problem with overdiagnosing ADHD, but a bigger problem is undertreatment. If the ads are educational, that is good. If they say that one treatment is right for everybody, that is a problem."

Stein says he gets lots of questions from parents who are scared of stimulant drugs -- but who are quite willing to try unregulated herbs and alternative medicines. Nearly half of parents use one of these types of medicine, he says, which are often are marketed as ADHD treatments.

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