By Michael Dorausch, DC
Adolescents taking stimulant medications such as Ritalin for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could possibly be several times more likely to suffer sudden unexplained death when compared to children not taking such drugs, according to a recent study funded by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health.
(photo: Ritalin 10 mg prescription medication -- credit: ADHD CENTER via Flickr)
Are kids taking ADHD drugs at a higher risk for sudden death when compared to those that don't take similar medications? Before a widespread panic ensues, prompting everyone to discontinue the use of schedule II narcotic medications for children, researchers report that the numbers in the study were small, but a rare and troublesome connection may be found in the evolving puzzle of research.
There is no doubt I'm biased regarding the idea of giving kids (or even adults) medications like Ritalin or other ADHD drugs. I think it's safe to say most chiropractors (and many natural health practitioners) would suggest approaches other than medicating children in regards to attention deficit disorder symptoms. But parents are hopefully making educated decisions, along with discussing the risks versus benefits with their respective healthcare practitioners, particularly those well-educated/experienced in the field.
Since these stimulants increase heart rate and have other cardiovascular effects, most doctors already evaluate patients for potential cardiac risks, before making recommendations for prescription medications like Adderall and Ritalin. Current numbers suggest an estimated 2.5 million children in the United States are taking such drugs via prescription. While it's an old story, a year 2000 UK study suggested Ritalin was being overprescribed in children, prompting new guidelines to be created regarding prescribing the medication (in the UK, not the US). No idea how that's worked out nine years later.
Currently, FDA officials say that given the seriousness of ADHD and the rarity of sudden death, the benefits of medicating children outweighs the risks. Agency officials urged parents to discuss concerns with doctors rather than make the decision of taking kids off of such medications on their own. I think patients should discuss concerns like these with their doctors, but not over the telephone or via the Internet. When it comes to the safety of our children, I believe these should be face-to-face between parent/s and healthcare practitioner/s. If for some reason your doctor or healthcare provider doesn't have the time (or shows little interest) to discuss the well-being of your child, maybe it's time to seek out someone that does.
According to the study and the concerns on sudden unexplained death, there was an association found between the stimulant medication methylphenidate (chemical name of Ritalin), but data reportedly showed limitations in drawing definitive conclusions, as to concrete risks. There was no experimental study done, since researchers would have to compare millions of children taking such medications with those not taking medications, in order to generate a result that was scientifically plausible. Instead, researchers evaluated information obtained on about 564 children in the United States, who died suddenly and inexplicably between the years 1985 and 1996.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has more details on this topic: Questions Raised About Stimulants and Sudden Death