New results from an ongoing study have raised doubt about the long-term effectiveness of drug therapy for ADHD and provoked bellicose rhetoric between co-authors who disagree about how to interpret their own data.
Results of the first phase of the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD were published a decade ago.
They showed that kids receiving Adderall and Concerta did better after 14 months than those receiving talk therapy or routine care.
In 2007 however, MTA scientists published follow-up data showing the positive effects had extinguished.
Treated and untreated kids had no behavioral differences and strikingly, kids taking the drugs were an inch shorter and 6 pounds lighter than the drug-free kids.
Somehow, the corresponding NIMH presser managed to convey that benefits of the drugs had been sustained. Study contributor Peter Jensen was quoted in the release as saying for example, “we were struck by the remarkable improvement in symptoms and functioning across all treatment groups.”
Now, newly released data confirm the drugs have no long-term benefits. The write-up is in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Study co-author William Pelham concluded the drugs work in the short term but are ineffective long term, and that “the stance the group took in the first paper was so strong that people are embarrassed to say they were wrong and we led the whole field astray.”
To which Jensen scoffed that his colleague stood alone with that “silly message,” while adding that kids from troubled backgrounds and those with mild forms of ADHD did do better with drugs in the long term.
Co-authors Brooke Molina and James Swanson concurred with Pelham. “If you want something for tomorrow, medication is the best, but if you want something 3 years from now, it does not matter,” Swanson told the Washington Post.