“With medication, it’s not that you’re a different person. You’re still the same person, but you just act a little better,” said Angie, an 11-year-old American who took part in the study and was quoted in a report about its findings.
The results are likely to further fuel the debate about whether children with ADHD, some as young as 4 years old, should be given stimulants.
ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders in the United States, where parents report that 9.5 percent of children ages 4 and older have received such a diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Britain, where the authors of the study are based, experts estimate that between 5 and 10 percent of children and adolescents have ADHD.
Symptoms of the disorder include difficulty staying focused, hyperactivity and problems with controlling disruptive or aggressive behavior.
“ADHD is a very emotive subject which inspires passionate debate,” said Ilina Singh, a biomedical ethicist from King’s College London, who led the research. “Everyone seems to have an opinion about the condition, what causes it, how to deal with children with ADHD, but the voices of these children are rarely listened to.”
Singh’s study, which was funded by medical charity the Wellcome Trust, involved interviewing children from 151 families in the United States and Britain to examine some of the ethical and societal issues surrounding ADHD — in particular, the use of drug treatments such as Ritalin.
Ritalin, known generically as methylphenidate, is sold by the Swiss drugmaker Novartis and is widely used in developed countries to help children with ADHD concentrate better and control impulsivity. Experts say that children with ADHD can be disruptive at school and fall behind, and that adolescents may engage in impulsive, risky behavior.
At a briefing to release the results of the study, Singh said some critics argue that the medications “turn children into robots” or say that children with ADHD are being “drugged into acquiescence.” But based on her study, she said, “the assumed ethical harms of stimulant medications were largely not supported.” She added that the study’s findings were “in no way a blanket endorsement of the use of stimulant-based medicines” for ADHD.
All of the medicated children in the study were taking either Ritalin or Concerta, a longer-acting version of the same drug made by Johnson & Johnson. Other common drugs used to treat ADHD include Shire’s Adderall and Vyvanse, and Eli Lilly’s Strattera.