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Do ADHD Drugs Improve School Scores?

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, April 27, 2009 11:13 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: ADHD, ADD, FDA and Prescription Drugs, Stimulants, Children's Health

Do ADHD drugs work for childen in school and in the long term? The jury is still out and this film looks at the issues and questions parents need to ask.  

Higher Test Scores with ADHD Drugs?


  • Pediatrics – Positive Association ADHD Drugs and Test Scores - Abstract , May 2009
  • Generation Rx  - Amazon

Kevin Miller produced the documentary Generation Rx and finds stimulant use is over prescribed with few positive results for kids.
Kevin Miller


IMAGE SOURCE: Drug company logo/ Kevin Miller’s World blog

Generation Rx documentary provides parents with answers about stimulant drugs for children diagnosed with ADHD.


A new five year study finds that children who have diagnosed attention deficit problems improved their academic scores when they took stimulants.

600 school children, spanning in age from five to ten, were tracked for five years in this study by University of California, Berkeley researchers. Their conclusions are published in Pediatrics. 

The children came from around the country and had all been diagnosed with A.D.H.D. (ADHD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, an inability to pay attention and focus accompanied by impulsivity and movement. 

The students were tracked in standardized math and reading scores.  The medications' use were associated with a gain in about one-third of a school year for reading and one-fifth of a school year in math scores. 

There are more than four million A.D.H.D diagnosed children in the U.S. and Richard Scheffler of the School of Public Health says, “I think the findings are important because this is the first time that we’ve had objective educational performance measures, to look at whether kids who are taking medications for A.D.H.D. compared to kids who are not, that actually show that they are doing better,” he says to the New York Times. 

Researchers say they controlled for variables such as the education level of parents. 

There is no word on whether all children, with a diagnosis or not, would have better test results on stimulant medication.

The Other Side of the Medication Issue

ADHD medications include Adderal, Concerta, Stattera, Ritalin, Focalin, Cylert, Provigil, among others, and are stimulants that are known to interfere with sleep and for some cause a loss of appetite.

Filmmaker Kevin Miller and producer of a 2008 documentary on the subject, Generation Rx, says those are not the only side effects and parents are not getting the entire story. 

“The fact of the matter is the science is shoddy and anything but scientific,” he says to IB News. 

Miller says the research that went into his film shows that ADHD is over diagnosed and that the media has been complicit in selling the ADHD story as credible for more than 20 years.

As an example, the film talks about a child who squirms in his seat. He is diagnosed as ADHD and put on a stimulant drug. One side effect of these medications can be a psychotic reaction to the stimulant drug. He then is diagnosed a bipolar, creating a lifetime dependency on antipsychotic medications.

“Is this a good system?” Miller asks.  “This is clearly what we’re doing.  How do you say we’re not over diagnosing?  Now we’re putting him on an antipsychotic drug which is the darkest drug in the world. Why? Because he squirmed in his seat!”

“Parents haven’t been given this information to make a determination what’s truly best for their family. It’s a false choice, only half of the information, their half, not the unpleasantries. My film, unfortunately, shows shoddy science and unpleasantries,” Miller says after taking more than two years to research Generation Rx.

Miller says he puts more credence in the more than 2,000 studies of ADHD drugs conducted by Oregon State University in 2005, part of the Drug Effectiveness Review Project.

At a time when millions of kids were put on drugs for ADHD, the group found little evidence that they helped school performance. Science for safety had been of a “poor quality” the group says research had failed to find which ADHD drugs were less likely to cause seizures, heart, and liver problems.

Canadian researchers warn that Adderal Extended Release can be linked to heart problems.  Cylert and Strattera are linked to liver damage, according to Oregon State researchers.    

And a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry last month found that long term use of stimulant drugs don’t improve children’s symptoms in the long term and appears to stunt children’s growth. 

The study was part of the Multimodel Treatment Study of Children with ADHD.

Conflict of Interest

Dr. Joseph Biederman a psychiatrist at Harvard, has promoted drug use for children with ADHD.
Dr. Joseph Biederman/ Image Source, Mass. General Hospital Bio

Reports of conflicting interest among doctors who are the biggest boosters of stimulants, don’t impart confidence in stimulant drug use for children.

Among them, Dr. Joseph Biederman, at Massachusetts General Hospital, is known for his controversial work in research and promoting antipsychotic medication for children. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) uncovered underreporting of income derived from drug makers of the very products they were promoting by Dr. Biederman and psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff at Emory University.

A Boston Globe profile on Dr. Biederman reported, “No one has done more to convince Americans that even small children can suffer the dangerous mood swings of bipolar disorder than Dr. Joseph Biederman of Massachusetts General Hospital.”   #

1 Comment

Anonymous User
Posted by john glennon
Tuesday, April 28, 2009 6:15 PM EST

This research directly contradicts the longest run study on live families. Studies like this are usually extrapolated from previously collected data. The MTA (Multi-modal Treatment of ADHD Children) followed real families as the typically use medication. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health. They found, after 3 years, that no significant differences occurred academically, behaviorally, or socially between medicated and non-medicated kids. However, medicated children were prone to stunted growth both in height and weight.

One of the authors of the Multi-modal Treatment of ADHD Children (MTA) said, and I quote, ""I think that 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."

We hired an ADHD coach to help with our son, Alex. He's not medicated. Our coach advocated us restructuring our parenting approaches. She also had us use two different programs. We used LINK to help us schedule routines and to provide consequences when the routine wasn't met. It's definitely for younger kids, but it really helped us manage. We also used LINK It's a neat program that allows Alex to control their games like Harry Potter. He uses his mind to finish tasks and improve memory. It's a long road, but we're doing well. It's good to have someone sort through the clutter to get help.

Comments for this article are closed.

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