A study funded by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute of Mental Health found an association between children taking stimulant drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall, used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sudden unexplained death, the Washington Post reported June 16.
Lead researcher Madelyn Gould, a professor at Columbia University, and colleagues identified 564 children in the United States who had died suddenly and inexplicably between 1985 and 1996. The researchers matched each of these children with another child, similar in age, sex and other variables, who had died in a motor vehicle accident — a cause of death researchers said would be unlikely to be related to use of any medication by kids.
Using data obtained from medical records and surveys of parents or caregivers, researchers observed that ten children in the group that suffered sudden, unexplained death had been taking stimulant drugs, while only two children in the group killed by traffic accidents had been taking stimulant 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,” said the researchers.
FDA officials said that the benefits of the drug for children with ADHD generally outweigh the risks, and encouraged parents to discuss concerns about stimulant medication with their child's doctor.
The study appeared online in the June 2009 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.