Kids who take Ritalin and Adderall for ADHD are much more likely than their drug-free counterparts to die suddenly, according to scientists at Columbia University.
Still, the number of deaths in the drug-taking population was small, and limitations in the study prevented the scientists from concluding the popular medicines were causing kids to drop dead.
Physicians have long wondered whether such a link could exist because the drugs are stimulants: they increase heart rate and blood pressure and occasionally precipitate abnormal heart rhythms.
About 2.5 million children take these drugs in the US.
“This study reports a significant association between sudden unexplained death and the use of stimulant medication, specifically methylphenidate (Ritalin),” wrote the authors. Our findings draw attention to the potential risks of stimulant medications for children and adolescents.”
To reach these conclusions, Madelyn Gould and colleagues undertook a matched case-control study involving 564 US children that died suddenly and inexplicably between 1985 and 1996.
The scientists determined which children were taking the stimulants through interviews with parents and a review of medical records.
While kids taking the stimulant medications had a much higher risk of sudden death, the tragic event occurred in less than 1 in 10,000 kids taking the drugs. And it remained possible that ADHD itself might have increased the risk for sudden death.
For those reasons, FDA officials said it would not be necessary to change the warning labels on the drugs and urged parents to take up any concerns with doctors rather than stopping their kids’ drugs cold turkey.
The new safety concerns regarding ADHD drugs come on the heels of an unsightly public dust-up involving co-authors on a scientific paper that appeared to show the drugs had no beneficial effects in the long term.