updated 9/28/2006 12:03:19 AM ET 2006-09-28T04:03:19

The first big study of the use of medication for attention deficit and hyperactivity shows the psychiatric disorder really is a family affair, with more than one person in the home likely to be taking the drugs.

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Parents of children on ADHD drugs were nine times more likely than other parents to use the drugs themselves. And if at least one parent and child were taking an ADHD drug, a second child was more likely to do so, too.

Doctors have long recognized that attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder runs in families.

The findings support what doctors see in their practice, said Dr. Thomas E. Brown, associate director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders, but there were some big surprises.

In families where a parent and child both started on ADHD medicine last year, nearly half the time the parent did so first, according to the study, by prescription benefit manager Medco Health Solutions Inc. of Franklin Lakes.

“Usually it’s the kid first, then the parent,” Brown said.

In households where a parent and child both began taking the drugs for the first time last year, it was Mom doing so rather than Dad nearly 60 percent of the time, although ADHD is two to three times more common in males than females.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said the explanation is that more women are being examined for attention deficit problems.

The study was based on analysis of prescription claims filed in 2005 for more than 107,000 children ages 5 to 19 and their parents.

Among children taking ADHD drugs, 7 percent had a parent also using the medicine, the study found. Among twins with one taking an ADHD drug, there was a 25 percent chance the other also was on the medicine — 33 percent if both twins were male.

“When people have the opportunity to see how much these medications improve a person’s function and they see it every day in their own family, they’re more likely to consider using these medicines” and less deterred by heavily publicized side effects, Brown said.

He said that the medicines are safe for most people and that the risks of alcohol and drug abuse, plus work and family problems, are much higher for people not treated.

The average age at which patients started on ADHD drugs was 43 for adults and 13 for children. Experts say attention problems become most obvious when kids hit middle and high school.

Last year, Medco reported that from 2000 through 2004, use of ADHD drugs rose about twice as fast among adults than among children and climbed at a much higher rate among women than men.

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