Do ADHD meds really help kids finish homework? Maybe not, study says

Plenty of drugmakers, including Shire and Johnson & Johnson, market ADHD drugs for children. But those drugs may not help them do their homework or get better grades at school, a new study shows.

A small study of 75 children with the disorder showed that behavioral intervention--including daily report cards for kids and parental help with homework--beat out long-acting stimulant meds in improving homework performance, Reuters reports.

Behavioral treatment helped children finish 10% to 13% more homework problems than they did without the treatment--enough to bring a failing F grade up to a passing C grade, the study authors noted. Accuracy also improved with behavioral treatment, by about 8%. But medication had no significant effects on homework completion or accuracy, the researchers found.

And adding the meds to behavioral intervention didn’t improve effectiveness over behavioral intervention alone, lead study author Brittany Merrill told the news service.

“Long-acting stimulant medications haven’t been shown to help with homework performance despite companies advertising their utility for homework time,” she said.

The pediatric market is key for ADHD drugmakers such as Shire, and this time of year--when kids go back to school after stopping their ADHD meds in May--is a key time to win share. Last year, Bernstein’s Ronny Gal predicted that Shire's Vyvanse would grab a piece of the pie from J&J’s Concerta--a therapy that usually sees growth in August--given a substitutability debacle around Concerta generics from Mallinckrodt and UCB.

The new research, though, could hamper pharma companies as they chase after expansion--though a few factors still bear exploring. Differences in children’s home and school environments could influence whether ADHD meds help homework performance, the researchers noted, and improvements might turn up if patients took higher doses or used the meds for longer periods of time. 

Waning effects throughout the day may also be to blame for meds' performance in the study, one researcher who wasn't involved in the study pointed out to Reuters.  

“Since the homework performance was measured so many hours after the medication was given, it is not surprising that there was no medication effect,” the outside researcher, Dr. Tumaini Rucker Coker, said.

"It doesn’t suggest that the child does not need the medication," Coker added. "[I]t may suggest, however, that by evening hours when the effect of the medication has dissipated, behavioral interventions will be even more important to help the child get through evening homework time."

- get more from Reuters

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