TUESDAY, Oct. 2, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Two leading U.S. psychiatric organizations on Tuesday released a guide intended to help parents deal with the torrent of often confusing and frightening information on treatments for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In addition to providing information on medications, the ADHD Parents Medication Guide, co-sponsored by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association, also offers insights into non-drug treatment options such as behavioral therapies and school services.
"When I needed information, few people had heard of ADHD and little information was available to help parents," Soleil Gregg, a parent of two children who grew up with ADHD in the 1970s and '80s, said during a teleconference to unveil the guide. "Now families are faced with just the opposite problem. There's an overwhelming and confusing array of information and misinformation on the Internet, on television and in the print media."
Experts estimate that almost 2 million children in the United States -- or about 3 percent to 5 percent of young children in the country -- have ADHD.
"ADHD is a neurobehavioral condition characterized by excessive restlessness, inattention, impulsivity and distraction," explained Dr. David Fassler, a member of the medication guide subcommittee and a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Burlington, Vt. "The very good news and take-home message is we can effectively help the majority of children, adolescents and adults who have ADHD. The real problem is that research also tells us that many young people and adults aren't receiving effective and appropriate treatment they deserve."
ADHD, if untreated or under-treated, can result in dropping out of school, underemployment, and higher arrest and accident rates, including traffic accidents.
Medications, including stimulants such as Ritalin, are often used to treat ADHD. (Some critics contend the drugs have been over-prescribed.) The drugs can have side effects, and one drug, Strattera, is now required to carry a black-box warning that it might prompt suicidal thoughts in children.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also called for new warning language to be incorporated into the labels of ADHD medications.
The new medication guide -- available at www.parentsmedguide.org -- is actually the second one in what may become a series of guides on mental health issues facing children and teens. The first guide, for parents of children with depression, has been accessed more than 1 million times.
"It's clear to us [that] parents have a lot of questions about disorders, treatments and medications and that's what led us to develop this particular guide," Fassler said.
The guide authors hope it will also be helpful for physicians, including psychiatrists and primary-care physicians.
"Most children with ADHD are first seen and evaluated with a primary-care physician. But the primary-care physician is often totally overwhelmed with the shortage of time they have to provide adequate education and background information to parents at the time of a visit," said Dr. Read Sulik, another member of the ADHD medication guide subcommittee who practices psychiatry in St. Cloud, Minn. "This tool will assist the providers."
"I think it's just a very helpful thing to be used in every psychiatrist's office who's going to be seeing kids with ADHD," added Dr. Adelaide Robb, another member of the ADHD medication guide subcommittee and a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
But the speakers at the teleconference were careful to stress that medication is not the only treatment route.
"We always start medicine after a thorough evaluation. We start out low and go slowly," Robb said. "We are not here to medicate children into being zombies in the classroom. We are here to help them focus and pay attention so they are able to learn and able to pay attention when, as teenagers, they are in traffic, which is a big issue."
"The guide stresses that behavioral treatments are an important component and the data suggests that two treatments combined are better than any one alone," said Dr. Thomas Anders, president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "There's a broader approach than medications only."
But the flip side of overmedication is under-treating, which can be equally harmful, the experts said.
"Half of kids with ADHD are not receiving any treatment at all," Fassler said.
Dr. Jane Ripperger-Suhler, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a psychiatrist with Scott & White Mental Health Center in Temple, Texas, said she plans on printing out the guide for patients and parents.
"The more information parents have about what's going on with their kids the better it is," she said.
View the Medication Guide at ParentsMedGuide.org.