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ADHD Drugs Possibly Linked To Sudden Death

June 16, 2009

New evidence from a government-backed study suggests that attention deficit drugs like Ritalin and Adderall can increase the risk of sudden death, yet federal health regulators continue to urge parents to keep their children on the medications.

The study, which appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that the stimulant drugs used to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder may be linked to sudden death in children and adolescents.

Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall already carry warnings about the risks of heart attack in children with heart conditions, but scientists are now seeing if the same risks apply to children without pre-existing heart issues.

According to the study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, healthy children using the medications had an increased risk of sudden death when compared to children not taking the drugs.

The study, which was partially funded by the Food and Drug Administration, is under scrutiny for its methods of collecting data.  The primary data relied on interviews with parents and physicians years after children’s deaths.

“Since the deaths occurred a long time ago, all of this depended on the memory of people – relatives and physicians – involved with the victims,” said Dr. Robert Temple, the FDA’s director of drug review.

The FDA is now urging parents to discuss the matter with their doctors, but to continue giving the treatments to their children.

The study examined 564 children who died of unexplained causes, and compared them to 564 children who were killed in car accidents.

Ten of the children in the unexplained death group were taking an ADHD drug, while only two of the children in the car accident group were on an ADHD medication.

“While the data have limitations that preclude a definitive conclusion, our findings draw attention to the potential risks of stimulant medications for children and adolescents,” the authors wrote in the study.

The FDA is currently working on a new study of the drugs that will be larger, and more in-depth.  They plan to have it completed later this year.

“We’re not sure this study tells us something we didn’t know,” Dr. Temple told the Associated Press.

“We didn’t think it gave an unequivocal answer as to whether there is such a risk.”

According to government researchers, nearly 2.5 million children in the U.S. take ADHD medications.

The American Heart Association recommends that doctors give children echocardiograms before prescribing them ADHD drugs, although scientists believe there is little conclusive data showing the drugs risks.

Sales of ADHD drugs, like Shire’s Adderall, Johnson & Johnson’s Concerta and Novartis’ Ritalin, topped $4.8 billion last year, according to health care analysis firm IMS Health.

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