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Best treatments for children with ADHD

We compare how well the drugs work, their safety and their price

Published: March 2012

The drugs usually prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are generally effective and safe. Most children and teenagers—60 percent to 80 percent—who take them become less hyperactive and impulsive, are better able to focus, and are less disruptive at home and school. However, there is no good evidence showing those benefits last for longer than two years.

Because diagnosis of the condition can be difficult, and a variety of medical and psychiatric disorders can cause symptoms that mimic ADHD, many children and teenagers taking these medicines might either not have ADHD or have only mild symptoms that do not require medication. Be sure to get a careful diagnosis from a physician or mental-health professional with expertise in ADHD and a second opinion if you have doubts.

Adults with ADHD also appear to benefit from taking medication. But far fewer studies have examined the effectiveness of the medicines in adult men and women.

Our analysis found that stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin),
might be slightly more effective than non-stimulant medications also used to treat ADHD, which include Intuniv, Kapvay, and Strattera. Our findings indicates that none of the stimulants are clearly more effective than any other. Each raises different safety issues, however, and you should discuss them with your doctor. Dosing convenience (such as taking one pill a day instead of two or more; oral solutions for those who have difficulty swallowing tablets; or the use of a skin patch) and the period of time that a medicine is active in your body are critical elements of ADHD treatment.

Taking into account the evidence for effectiveness, safety, dosing convenience, duration of action, and cost, we have chosen the following as Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs to treat ADHD:

  • Generic methylphenidate tablets
  • Generic methylphenidate sustained-release tablets or capsules

Methylphenidate has a long track record that shows it is generally safe and effective. The monthly cost ranges from $15 to $196, depending on strength.

As this report is being finalized, there's an ongoing shortage of generic methylphenidate due to manufacturing problems. If you’re unable to get a prescription filled, ask your doctor or pharmacist about obtaining the drug from a different part of the country. That might be easier at large chain pharmacies, such as at Target or Walgreens.

Editor's Note: These materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).
   

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