ADHD Drugs Ineffective, Linked to Stunted Growth in Children

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Capsule and tablet of Methylphenid.

The practice of prescribing stimulant medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not only ineffective, it also stops children from growing to their normal height. This was the conclusion of a new study published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that followed more than 500 children with ADHD into adulthood.

In this study, the extended use of drugs like Ritalin® was associated with suppressed adult height, but not with fewer symptoms of ADHD. The trial concluded that in short-term treatment of ADHD with stimulant drugs, the benefits outweigh the risks.

However, longer treatment may be linked to growth-inhibiting side effects that aren’t offset by the reduction in symptoms.

Past studies have found that ADHD stimulant medications such as Ritalin (methylphenidate) and amphetamines cause side effects such as sleep disturbances and loss of appetite. A review of the medical literature found that taking amphetamine medications or the non-stimulant drug atomoxetine for 4 to 96 weeks increases systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as heart rate in children and adolescents with ADHD. The review also found Ritalin® significantly increased systolic blood pressure.

“The most recently published guidelines (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011) recommend expanding the diagnosis and treatment beyond school-aged children and using stimulant medication as first-line treatment for adolescents as well as school-aged children,” wrote the study authors. “Since this would increase the average duration of treatment and cumulative dose of medication in some individuals, the findings suggest growth-related costs may increase.”

Source: James M. Swanson, L. Eugene Arnold, Brooke S. G. Molina, Margaret H. Sibley, et.al. Young adult outcomes in the follow-up of the multimodal treatment study of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: symptom persistence, source discrepancy, and height suppression. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12684