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  • The Danger of Ritalin

    At least 3% of school children have ADHD, making this condition one of the most common disorders affecting our children. For nearly a century stimulant medications, such as Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, or Dexedrine, have been the most effective treatment for this disorder.

    Recently, a lot of concern has been expressed concerning the safety of these medications. Adderall XR was implicated in the death of 20 patients. This resulted in a ban on the use of this drug in Canada in 2005. In the same year the FDA linked 16 deaths to the use of Concerta. Ritalin has been implicated in 186 deaths between the years 1990 and 2000.

    These statistics have given birth to a number of concerned parent groups that want to stop the use of stimulant medications in ADHD children. A variety of natural medicine companies bolstered their cries, while incidentally offering their own natural treatment as an alternative.

    It is not surprising that all the noise has made many parents uneasy about using stimulants to treat ADHD in their children. Many parents fear that they are putting their child at risk by giving them these medications. ADHD is a very disturbing condition, but it is not fatal. It does not make sense to give your child something that endangers his life just to treat ADHD.

    Are parents who use medication to treat ADHD reckless? Before answering this question we need to examine the evidence.

    Ritalin Death Statistics

    As discussed previously, in the decade before the new millennium, 186 children died from taking Ritalin. That sounds like a large number of children, but is it?

    In 1990, 900,000 children received Ritalin. Currently, there are between four and five million children receiving this medication. If you estimate about 20 deaths a year from Ritalin, then the risk of your child dying from taking Ritalin is somewhere between 1 in 45,000 and 1 in 250,000. This means statistically, for every 45,000 children who take Ritalin 1 will die and 44,999 will survive. This does not mean that the children won’t have any of the other ill effects. It just means that death will not be one of them.

    Admittedly, this is not an exact calculation of the risk of death. To do that one needs to know the approximate number of children who took Ritalin between 1990 and 2000. This information is not available. However, whatever the exact risk is, it is very small.

    Contrast that to the death risk of using other common drugs. For example, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in drugs like Tylenol, has been implicated in 42% of all cases of acute liver failure. 7600 deaths are attributed to aspirin and similar drugs every year. The risk of dying from a single dose of penicillin is 1 in 50,000, the same as the risk of taking Ritalin over many years. These are drugs that we use everyday. They too have some risk. Yet there is not outcry to ban them.

    There is no attempt here to minimize or ignore the danger involved in giving our children stimulant medications. Even one child’s death is unacceptable if it can be prevented. However, when you consider the risk of giving your child Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, and similar medications, you need to realize there are many more dangerous medications that are being used in homes everyday.

    The Danger of Not Treating ADHD

    The risk of using medication is only one aspect of the equation. We need to consider what happens to ADHD children if they don’t receive medication. Very few people ever discuss this.

    In 1999, researcher examined how giving ADHD medication impacts the risk of future drug abuse. What these researchers discovered was that ADHD children who received medication for their ADHD were no more likely to get heavily involved with street drugs and alcohol than were children without ADHD. However, children with ADHD who did not receive medication were three times as likely to develop a serious drug or alcohol problem.

    So is there a danger in not using ADHD medications such as Ritalin, Concerta, or Adderall? Consider this. The three leading causes of death in teens and young adults are suicide, homicide, and accidents. Drug and alcohol abuse play a significant role in all of these.

    You also should consider all of the academic, social, and behavioral problems that accompany a child with untreated ADHD. More than that, if your child also has a co-existing disorder, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, giving ADHD medication may be the most effect thing you can do to handle the problem. These other problems may not be fatal, but they can ruin the life and the future of your child.

    Certainly, a child who does not need medication should not take Ritalin, Concerta, or Adderall or anything else for that matter. However, if your child has ADHD and it is impairing his ability to function normally, then stimulant medication is still the best and quickest way to get the problem under control. This is not to say that it is the only approach. There are numerous effective non-medical treatments for ADHD. But you need to do something.

    If you are like most parents, you don’t like the idea of your child taking stimulant medication for ADHD. However, one thing that should not worry you is that you child will be the one child in 45,000 who has a fatal reaction to the medication. You should be far more worried about the risk of not treating your child.

    Please share this article.

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      Anthony Kane, MD
        P S Please leave a comment because I would really like to get your reaction to this.

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          1 Comment

          One Response to “The Danger of Ritalin”

          1. Thank you for providing a well balanced arguement for the use of stimulant medication with ADHD children. I am constantly re-assessing my committment to givig my child Ritalin, only because of the bad press it receives. However, it is obvious my child needs the help and so I continue to provide it to him. He has Dyslexia and Sensory Processing issues to deal with as well. Ritalin at least helps him learn. If I denied him this medication his self esteem would be rock bottom as he struggles to keep up at school and keep friends. Thank God there is something I can do for him. To not give him this medication would be cruel. If a child has diabetes you give them insulin and do not question it. When a child has ADHD they are more susceptible to injury from impulsive action and lack of concentration. It\\\’s hell for a parent to see their child constantly hurting themselves and continually having problems with friends because of their condition. It is a serious problem and while I wish there was another way, I haven\\\’t yet found a natural alternative that works for him.

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