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FAQs: ADHD & Medication

Managing children with ADHD can be really challenging, however, the fact that effective medication is available, along with home and school support, is encouraging. Studies show a common delay of 2-4 years from ADHD diagnosis and commencement of medication, as parents usually try a range of alternative approaches before starting to medicate the child.

Dr Desiree Silva answered 3 commonly asked questions about ADHD and medication:

1. Is stimulant medication overprescribed?

This is a common concern and is often discussed in the media. What we do know is that ADHD is present in approximately 6 per cent of children in Australia, whereas only 1.25 per cent of children in Western Australia are prescribed stimulant medication. We can conclude from this that not all children need stimulant medication to manage their ADHD, and that stimulant medication is not overprescribed in Western Australia.

In the USA, up to 20 per cent of boys have been reported to have ADHD symptoms and over half are prescribed stimulant medication. Studies are currently underway to further explain the discrepancy in level of medication prescription between the USA and other countries.

2. Is stimulant medication safe for my child?

Ritalin first came on the market in 1944, so its side effects are well studied. The most common side effect is appetite loss, followed by sleep disruption and mood disruption, including increased activity when the medication wears off. The longer lasting medications appear to have fewer side effects, but this may not always be the case. The problems associated with medication are usually mild and short-term.

To date, no serious long-term effects of stimulant medication have been found, apart from the rare changes in heart rhythm, which may occur in children who have an underlying heart problem. There are some processes in place to report and monitor drug side effects where any adverse drug reaction is reported to the pharmaceutical board and investigated.

3. Does my child have to take medication every day?

Regular medication is the best choice for treatment, but there are a number of children who find that they only need medication to concentrate at school, so they tend not to take medication over the school holidays and sometimes over the weekend. If the medication helps with their behaviour and social functioning, it is probably best for them to remain on regular medication.

Dr Desiree Silva

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