A possible long-term adverse effect linked to ADHD drug use is finally emerging

Tearing it Up

Nearly a decade ago, when I first started emailing you about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, I noted what I thought was one very important detail about ADHD drugs: No track record.

At that time, millions of children were already prescribed Ritalin and other similar ADHD drugs. But what effects would these drugs have on a generation of kids when they matured?

No one knew.

But now, a long-term adverse effect may be emerging.

Used and abused

New research from the University of Texas shows that adults under the age of 50 who abuse an amphetamine, or have a dependence on the drug, are three times more likely to suffer aortal tears.

The aorta is the body’s main artery. And as you can imagine, a tear is usually fatal.

Of course, amphetamines are highly addictive and widely abused in the form of illegal drugs (methamphetamine), as well as prescription drugs. And two of the prescription drugs commonly used for ADHD–Adderall and Ritalin–are variants of amphetamine.

So what constitutes abuse/dependence?

Say you started taking Ritalin when you were two years old (shocking and sad, but it certainly happens in kids that young and even younger). As the years go by, if your parents and your pediatrician and school teachers are happy with your behavior, why would they take you off the drug?

Time flies, now you’re a senior in high school and you’ve been using this powerful central nervous system stimulant for about 15 years.

That’s not abuse, and it may not even be dependence in the literal sense of “addiction.” But a long history of use like that just might be enough to put your aorta at risk.

In a Reuters Health article about the Texas study, one of the authors of the study said, “We found that the frequency of aortic dissection is increasing in young adults but not older adults. It is not yet clear why.”

Not clear? Maybe not, but I think we can render a pretty strong guess. So here’s a note for the Texas team: How about delving deeper into that data for a follow-up study so we can see clearly if Ritalin, Adderall, and other similar drugs used to treat ADHD are putting children’s aortas in grave danger?

In the meantime, this isn’t the only Ritalin link to grave danger that concerns us.

Last year I talked about a shocking study conducted by the FDA and the National Institute of Mental Health. And if you haven’t already heard about it, I think you may be surprised to find out how much Ritalin use can increase risk of sudden death in children and adolescents.

“Aortic dissection in young adults who abuse amphetamines” American Heart Journal, Vol. 160, No. 2, sciencedirect.com
“Amphetamines could damage heart artery” Reuters Health, 8/17/10, reutershealth.com

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