Health economics study tackles ADHD medication outcomes

Leah Kitashima, a Ph.D. candidate in health economics, will further her study of ADHD thanks to a pre-doctoral fellowship from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

CLEMSON — As an undergraduate, Leah Kitashima witnessed a behavior that had become what she felt was far too prevalent among fellow students.

Today, as a third-year Ph.D. candidate in Clemson’s College of Business and Behavioral Science health economics program, she’s looking deeper into a variation of that issue thanks to a recently awarded pre-doctoral fellowship from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

At issue, then and now, is the use of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications and their effects. Kitashima, of Hilton Head Island, has already explored the effect medications have on ADHD-medicated children related to sexual behavior, substance abuse and injuries.

The National Bureau of Economic Research fellowship will help fund the next phase of her dissertation research: how the educational outcomes of children with ADHD are affected by medication treatment.

“When I was a junior at Georgia College & State University, I noticed an inordinate number of friends were taking ADHD medications at exam time to stay awake longer and increase their ability to focus. It’s very common with students on college campuses around the country. Students procrastinate and put off studying for exams until the last minute, then rely on the stimulants to stay awake to study. That experience left an impression on me and piqued my interest in ADHD medications.”

Though her fellowship-funded research won’t focus on college students’ use of ADHD drugs in studying for exams, it will seek to better understand how the drugs affect the educational outcomes of ADHD children receiving medications.

Kitashima said ADHD diagnoses are increasing each year and that medication is prescribed in almost 70 percent of those cases. “What’s interesting is previous research didn’t provide conclusive findings on whether medication has been effective.”

Her initial research on the effectiveness of ADHD medications, co-authored with economics Ph.D. candidate Anna Chorniy, showed positive outcomes associated with pharmacological treatment.

For ADHD children on pharmacological treatment vs. ADHD children not treated, the probability of ever contracting a sexually transmitted disease decreases by about 11 percentage points and the probability of ever abusing a substance decreases by roughly 9 percentage points.

The probability of a child getting injured decreases 2.9 percentage points per year for treated ADHD children.

“The fellowship will help us look into the effects of ADHD medication on children’s educational outcomes in such areas as test scores, attendance, suspension, expulsion and graduation. Hopefully, this will be extended to criminal outcomes also,” she said.

Kitashima plans to put her doctorate to work as a researcher or in teaching.