Blog | Thursday, June 18, 2009

ADHD drug study swerves way off course

Recently, parents of children with ADHD were subjected to some alarming headlines warning of a possible association between the use of stimulant medications for the disorder and sudden cardiac death.

The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, seemed to carry some weight and even prompted a communication from the FDA (who provided funding, along with the National Institute of Mental Health), but pay close attention to the study's many limitations. Consider the unusual design of the study: researchers compared two groups of healthy children using stimulant medications. Half died suddenly in car accidents while the other half died suddenly from other causes. Because fewer kids in the car accident group died than in the other causes group (10 vs. 2), while taking the drugs, researchers surmised that there may be an association betwen the drugs and sudden death in healthy children. Huh?

And how did the researchers determine whether the deceased children were taking stimulants at time of death? They simply asked the grief-stricken parents, often years after the fact -- that's one of the "limitations" mentioned by the FDA. Another is the very real possibility that a child's death from unexplained causes prompted an autopsy investigating medication use. According tothe FDA, "the low frequency of stimulant use in both groups, as well as possible differences in the type of post-mortem inquiry, could have a profound biasing effect on the results." No kidding.

It's bewildering as to how this study even got funded. With so many problems with the methodology and possibilities for biases, the only effect of publicizing the results appears to be stirring up needless panic in the many parents whose children are being treated for ADHD.