ADHD Drugs Linked to Deaths, Cardiovascular Problems
> 2/10/2006 11:08:01 AM

An advisory panel at the Food and Drug Administration has called for the strongest possible warnings to be added to drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These harsher warnings, known as black box warnings, were recommended by a slim margin of 8 to 7 by the safety panel.

These new concerns have come to light due to the publication of research that has linked 25 deaths and many cases of severe cardiovascular problems to the use of drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. The panel also stated that their concerns about the potentially fatal cardiovascular side-effects were focused more on adults who have seen an astronomical rise in use over the past several years. According to the L.A. Times, the prescription of ADHD drugs for adults has increased by 90% from 2002 to 2005.

While the potential for deleterious heart problems and even death should be reason enough for a stern warning, the Washington Post also notes that the prevalence of the drugs in our society was a cause for concern with the advisory panel.

Members of the board said the recommendation was driven as much by worries that the drugs are being overused in the United States as by the possible side effects: About 10 percent of 10-year-old American boys are taking such medications, and there have been recent sharp increases in the number of adults taking them.

"On the surface, it is hard to believe," said Curt Furberg, professor of public health sciences at North Carolina's Wake Forest University Medical School, who voted for the black-box warning. "What is also interesting is this condition is not really recognized in other countries -- you wonder what we are treating. I am sure there are patients who need these drugs, but it is not 10 percent of all 10-year-old boys."

This recommendation for black box status however, remains only that, a recommendation. In the past, the FDA has been criticized for not moving swiftly enough on safety warning recommendations. This is one situation where haste is necessary. Adderall is an amphetamine, while other ADHD drugs like Ritalin or Concerta are ethylphenidates that mimic amphetamine behaviors in the body. These stimulants have already been shown to effect cardiovascular health, and combined with the sharp spike in adult usage, there is the potential for dramatic negative side-effects. The FDA has a responsibility to disclose any and all information about these ADHD drugs as well as provide the appropriate warnings to doctors and those who use them or plan on using them.

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