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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

ADHD Drugs Do Not Raise Death Rate Among Children

May 16, 2011

Scientists said on Monday that kids who take drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do not appear to have a higher risk of heart problems or death.

Parents and doctors have been concerned in recent years about scattered reports regarding sudden deaths among children on the medications.

However, researchers said that despite their limitations to study this, they call their findings reassuring.

“The risk of death is certainly no higher in children who take ADHD medications than in children who don’t,” Sean Hennessy, a pharmacist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who led the work, said in a statement.

About 2.7 million children and teens in the U.S. use ADHD drugs.

The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is based on claims data from Medicaid and a commercial insurer.  It includes over 240,000 kids ages three to 17, who received ADHD drugs and were followed for 135 days on average.

The researchers sought to compare those children to over 965,000 who did not take the drugs but were similar age and gender.

The team found it difficult to do because often the claims data did not match the hospital records.

Hennesy and his colleagues calculated that there would be six sudden deaths or cardiac arrests per 1,000,000 kids taking ADHD drugs for a year.

That is slightly more than four per 1,000,000 kids in the comparison group.  However, because the numbers are so small, the difference could easily be chalked up to chance.

There were no strokes or heart attacks in the ADHD group, and the team estimates it is very unlikely that the true rates would exceed 24 cases per 1,000,000 a year.

Rates of death “from any cause” were 179 per 1,000,000 kids per year in the ADHD group and 300 per 1,000,000 in the comparison group.

“For kids who would benefit from ADHD medications, the potential cardiovascular risks should not dissuade physicians from prescribing the drugs,” Hennessy told Reuters Health.

The findings are in line with two previous reports that did not find evidence of a link between sudden death and ADHD drugs.

One expert who was not involved in the current study said the results were hard to interpret due to the small number of deaths and heart problems.

“The new findings confirm that if there is an association between stimulants and cardiac events, it is quite rare,” Almut Winterstein, of the University of Florida College of Pharmacy in Gainesville, told Reuters Health.

She said there is no telling how the millions of kids on ADHD medicines will fare down the road.

“We will need to wait another decade to understand whether even slightly increased blood pressure and heart rate over several years during childhood results in increased cardiovascular risk in later life,” she said in an email written to Reuters.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently awaiting data from a large safety study on stimulants.

“Studying cardiovascular events using insurance data in kids in somewhat complicated,” Hennessy said in a statement. “I would like to see the results of the FDA study before the matter is closed.”

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