The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday barring schools from requiring hyperactive children to use drug treatments as a condition for attending classes.

Backers say the bill was designed to curb anecdotal but troubling reports of officials telling parents that disruptive kids must begin drug treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in order to stay in school.

Doctors routinely rely on teachers to identify troubling behavior that can be a sign of ADHD. But some schools have overstepped their bounds and coerced parents into starting children on medication.

“Sometimes officials even attempt to force parents into choosing between medicating their child and allowing that child to remain in the classroom. This is unconscionable,” says Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the bill’s main sponsor.

Nearly 4 million U.S. children under age 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD by 2004, according to the CDC.

Doctors wrote more than 5.6 million prescriptions of Adderall -- a drug used to treat ADHD -- during the first six months of 2005. That's a 15 percent increase over the same period a year before, according to IMS Health, a pharmaceutical information and consulting company.

Complaints From Parents

It remains unclear how often schools have tried to make medication a condition of attending class.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, says the House Education and Workforce Committee, which he leads, has received “a number of complaints” from parents.

The bill easily passed 407-12, with one member voting “present,” but drew criticism from some lawmakers.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., who is a psychiatrist, tells WebMD that the measure was “a bad bill.”

“Local school boards and districts are the ones who have to deal with these issues, not Congress,” he says.

Chilling Effect?

Lance Clawson, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Washington, says schools don’t have the power to force medications on parents. He says the bill could have a chilling effect on teachers who identify potentially pathological behavior in students.

“Putting a gag order on schools is not going to get us anywhere. It’s only going to scare teachers,” Clawson tells WebMD.

Kline says his bill is not designed to discourage appropriate treatment. “This bill is not antischool, antiteacher, or antimedication.”

A similar bill passed the House in 2003 but the Senate never acted.

By Todd Zwillich, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.). IMS Health. CDC. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). Lance Clawson, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

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