ADHD News & Research

Trending: New Nationwide Study on ADHD Treatment in Children

In the first study of its kind, the CDC looks at how children are being treated state by state.

April 2, 2015

A new study finds that less than half of all U.S. children with ADHD receive behavioral therapy to treat the condition, while over 70 percent are taking ADHD medication.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent study on ADHD tracked the use of medication, behavioral therapy, and supplements in all 50 states. They found that, among children with ADHD between the ages of 4 and 17, approximately 4 in 10 were treated with medication alone, while 1 in 10 received behavioral therapy alone. Three in 10 received both, with the remaining children receiving neither treatment. Overall, 10 percent of the children studied took supplements like fish oil or iron in addition to the other ADHD treatments.

The study also looked at preschool-aged children, finding that approximately 1 in 2 were treated with behavioral therapy, and 1 in 2 were treated with medication. To the researchers’ surprise, 1 in 4 were being treated with medication alone.

These findings were significant because, in 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics released ADHD treatment guidelines recommending behavioral therapy alone for children younger than six, since the long-term effects of ADHD medications on four- and five-year-olds are not known. After age six — where the effects of medication have been more intensively studied and deemed safe — a combination of medication and behavioral therapy is recommended.

However, many doctors and parents still exclusively choose medication, perhaps due to the difficulty of finding or paying for behavioral therapy. Steven Cuffe, M.D., one of the authors of the study, says, “We think there may be an issue with the availability of behavioral treatments for preschoolers. That is our suspicion. That [number receiving behavioral therapy] should be higher.”

The study also showed significant differences in how states treat childhood ADHD. States with low rates of medication use — like California and Hawaii — tended to have higher rates of behavioral therapy, and vice versa. Overall, Michigan had the highest rate of medication use, at 88 percent, while Tennessee had the lowest rate of behavioral therapy, at 33 percent.

The percentage of children not receiving any treatment (13 percent) was still too high in many researchers’ opinions, but Cuffe acknowledges that progress has been made. “That’s still pretty good,” he said. Overall, he added, “I think we’re doing a better job of getting the kids who need it into treatment.”