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article imageStudy shows that Ritalin does not improve academic performance

By Igor I. Solar     Jun 19, 2013 in Health
Quebec - A long-term study following the performance of children prescribed Ritalin for treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder showed that increased use of the drug led to worse academic achievement; the effect was stronger in boys than in girls.
Methylphenidate (MPD HCl), the active factor in Ritalin, the most commonly prescribed psycho-stimulant drug, works by rising the activity of the central nervous system. It has the effect of increasing or maintaining alertness, combating fatigue, and improving attention.
The compound was synthesized in 1944 and patented by CIBA (now Novartis). It was identified as a stimulant in 1954, and licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1955 for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Since the 1960’s the diagnosis of ADHD in children and the prescription of Ritalin, or any of the 30 drugs having MPD as its active compound, has skyrocketed. In the U.S., about 11 percent of children aged four to 17 years are diagnosed with ADHD, and more than half are receiving MPD treatment.
Ritalin is a controlled drug used for treatment of ADHD.
Ritalin is a controlled drug used for treatment of ADHD.
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Long term use of Ritalin may result in many side-effects which include some common, mild adverse effects such as nervousness and irregular sleep patterns, but also some severe effects such as stunted growth, depression and suicidal thoughts.
The main benefits of Methylphenidate in children diagnosed with ADHD relate to getting kids quiet and focused, and as a result improving school performance. Surprisingly, this alleged benefit has not been tested and demonstrated in a long-term study.
Now, an investigation conducted by researchers of the universities of Princeton, Cornell and U. of Toronto analyzed the performance of more than 15,000 children in Quebec, over a period of 14 years. The study showed that the increase in the use of MPF as a treatment for ADHD led to worse academic performance.
The researchers, led by Janet M. Currie, an economist at Princeton University, and colleagues Lauren E. Jones (Cornell University) and Mark Stabile (University of Toronto), examined the effects of a policy change in 1997 in the province of Quebec, Canada, which expanded insurance coverage for prescription medications. Their research showed that the change was associated with a significant increase in the use of Ritalin in Quebec, relative to the rest of Canada. They further investigated if this increase in medication use was associated with improvements in emotional functioning and short- and long-term academic outcomes among children with ADHD. The results of the study showed that there was an increase in emotional problems among girls, and reductions in educational achievement among boys.
This finding raises the question on why an increase in the use of medication for ADHD could be associated with worse academic performance. The researchers suggest that one possible answer is that medication becomes a substitute for other types of cognitive and behavioral interventions that might be necessary to help the child learn. ADHD medication can make children less disruptive, but it could decrease the attention that they receive in the classroom and reduce the probability of receiving other services.
The researchers conclude that the investigation, which they refer to as a “natural experiment” or an “ecological study”, cannot provide knowledge on optimal use of Methylphenidate medication for ADHD, but suggest that the increase in the use of the medication, and the way the drug is used in the community, can have negative consequences.
The study is published as Working Paper No. 19105 of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), June 2013, under the title: "Do Stimulant Medications Improve Educational and Behavioral Outcomes for Children with ADHD?"
More about Ritalin, Methylphenidate, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Quebec
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