New Research Raises Questions About Long Term Effectiveness of ADHD Medications
Questions are being raised about not only the long term effectiveness of ADHD medications but on the integrity of researchers in providing information about the results. A large federal study has indicated that medication may not be effective after 24 months of use and that long-term use may indeed stunt growth in children.
The study followed three separate subgroups of children. One group, from social and economically stable homes showed little or no difference between children taking medication for a long period of time and children not taking medication. For children from troubled or deprived backgrounds, progress deteriorated as soon as they stopped receiving treatment in the study. The third group, with the least amount of impairment from ADHD symptoms, showed improvement with long-term use of stimulant medication.
The study also showed that children taking ADHD medications were one inch shorter and six pounds lighter than the children not taking medication for ADHD.
Researchers in the study are at odds in interpreting the data from the study. One researcher, William Pelham, believes the data shows ADHD medications to be effective when used for periods of 24 months or less. Pelham also believes other scientists involved in the study dismissed any results showing the ineffectiveness of medication as a long-term treatment. Pelham states he is concerned that researchers are too embarrassed over their previous endorsement of medications for ADHD to admit there is evidence to the contrary.
Another one of the researchers, Peter Jensen, believes Pelham is "biased against the use of drugs and was substituting personal opinions for science."  Jensen does not share the view that the public has been lied to about the effectiveness of the medication and points out that some children in the study did better when taking medication on a long-term basis. He also indicated the study showed the need for individualized treatment plans. Jensen also questions whether the results show a decrease in the quality of care children received once the intensive treatment of the study was over.
One interpretation of the study can be to use medication as a short-term solution. During the time children are taking ADHD medications, parents can teach valuable behavioral strategies. Once medication is stopped, the skills learned can continue to help manage symptoms of ADHD.
 "Debate of Drugs for ADHD Reignites", 2007, Mar 27, Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post