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ADHD drugs have no long-term benefit

Researchers raise doubts regarding the long-term efficacy of methylphenidate drugs used to treat ADHD

ADHD drugs have no long-term benefit US-based researchers have raised doubts regarding the long-term efficacy of methylphenidate drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A team of scientists at the University of Buffalo carried out the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children (MTS) with ADHD, which found that while drugs, such as Ritalin and Concerta, worked well in the short term, over a three-year period they did not improve behaviour.

Additionally, the study also found the drugs could stunt growth. The research, which was broadcast in part on the BBC Panorama programme on 12 November, showed that GPs in the UK prescribed ADHD drugs to approximately 55,000 children in 2006 at a cost of GBP 28m.

The MTA study findings about ADHD drugs run contrary to research monitoring the treatment of 600 children across the US in the 1990s, which concluded in 1999. The over one year, medication worked better than behavioural therapy for ADHD. This finding influenced medical practice in the US and the UK and prescription rates in both regions have tripled as a result.

The report's co-author, Professor William Pelham, of the University of Buffalo, said: "I think we exaggerated the beneficial impact of medication in the first study. We had thought that children medicated longer would have better outcomes. That didn't happen to be the case."

"The children had a substantial decrease in their rate of growth, so they weren't growing as much as other kids in terms of both their height and their weight. And the second was that there were no beneficial effects - none," he added.

Pelham concluded: "In the short run [medication] will help the child behave better, in the long run it won't. And that information should be made very clear to parents."

Dr Tim Kendall of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: "A generous understanding would be to say that doctors have reached the point where they don't know what else to offer."

Kendall, who is helping prepare the new 2008 NHS guidelines for the treatment of ADHD, added he hoped to make recommendations which will give people a comprehensive approach to treatment. He admitted that the study had highlighted the importance of a comprehensive approach which did not focus solely on just one type of treatment.

30th September 2008

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