Can Ritalin kill a child?
By Dr. Samuel L. Blumenfeld
On March 21, 2000, 14-year-old Matthew Smith dropped dead of a heart attack while
skateboarding. The ninth-grader had been on Ritalin since the first grade. Lawrence
Smith, father of the youngster, has testified that Monica, school social worker,
made them feel threatened, when she told them that if they didn't take Matthew to
the doctor with their evaluation and recommendation for Ritalin that Michigan Social
Services could charge them for neglecting their son's educational and emotional
"His last report card was his best," says Lawrence Smith. "But it wasn't worth
it for us. Putting him on Ritalin was the worst decision I've ever made." And that's
because no long-range study had been made of the effects of Ritalin on children
who take it over a number of years.
It has also been known since 1986 that methylphenidate, the generic term for
Ritalin, causes shrinkage of the brain. A study that appeared in Psychiatry Research
(Vol. 17, 1986) states: "The data in this study are suggestive of mild cerebral
atrophy in young male adults who had a diagnosis of HK/MBD during childhood and
had received stimulant drug treatment for a period of time."
Another study published in Archives of General Psychiatry (July 1996) found that
"Subjects with ADHD had a 4.7 percent smaller total cerebral volume." Fifty-three
of the 57 subjects with ADHD had been previously treated with psycho-stimulants.
Apparently, these drugs constrict the flow of blood.
Despite these alarming findings, nearly 6 million children take Ritalin or one
of a number of other stimulants in order to attend school. According to the Boston
Globe (May 14, 2002): "New Englanders buy more of the stimulant Ritalin and its
generic equivalents per capita than residents of any other part of the country."
Believe it or not, New Hampshire is the nation's leading consumer of methylphenidate,
the generic name for Ritalin. Next in consumption is Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode
Island and Maine.
Why such high consumption in New England? The region has more doctors per capita,
and therefore more children are likely to be prescribed medication for so-called
attention disorders. Also, New England has a high concentration of liberals who
love the public schools and are more inclined to be cooperative when educators recommend
drugging their children. In addition, more and more adults are taking Ritalin and
its competitor, Adderall.
Parents Magazine and Good Housekeeping of September 2002 had two-page ads for
Adderall XR, suggesting that life for a child could be so much better if he were
on the drug. The ad reads:
Finding the right medication may help you see a big difference in how your
child feels about himself or herself and what he or she is able to accomplish
all day, every day!
Ask your doctor if a change to patient-friendly Adderall
XR could be right for your child.
In other words, "Parents, please switch from Ritalin to Adderall." The ad then
has these cautionary words about side effects:
Adderall XR is for patients with a confirmed diagnosis of Attention-Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
The most common side effects are decreased appetite,
loss of sleep (insomnia), abdominal pain, and emotional lability [instability]
Amphetamines have a high potential for abuse. Caution is advised in patients
with a history of high blood pressure or mental illness
There is a potential
for worsening of motor and phonic tics and Tourette's syndrome.
When parents are advised to put their child on Ritalin, no examination is made
to see if that child might be allergic to its side effects. Of course, some children
seem to benefit from the drug. Otherwise, there wouldn't be 6 million children on
it and other similar drugs. But the power of methylphenidate is closer to cocaine
Recently, I received a call from a father being pressured by a school to put
his son on Ritalin. What did I think of the idea, he asked. I told him of the sudden
death of some children, the violent and murderous behavior of others, and the fact
that Ritalin shrinks the brain. He wanted me to tell all of this to his wife who
was inclined to go along with the school. So he put her on the phone. She listened
politely. But when I told her of the shrinkage of the brain, she wanted to know
if it produced any behavioral change. I said I didn't know, but I thought that more
brain was better than less brain.
As far as I knew, no investigations had been made by medical researchers on what
happens to intelligence when the brain atrophies. But I got the distinct impression
that this boy's mother was not alarmed by brain shrinkage per se. If I could not
demonstrate a definite loss of intelligence or nervous-system capability, then brain
shrinkage was really nothing to worry about.
In fact, the Detroit News of Dec. 12, 2002, reported that there was indeed nothing
to worry about. The article's headline said it all: "Ritalin is safe and it works."
An excited reporter wrote:
For more than a generation, we've been "drugging" our unruly children to
calm them down. And in doing so, we have risked damaging their young brains
and setting them up for long-term drug addiction or so we have been warned.
But now, that mantra is being turned inside-out. The first long-term results
of what some have called a huge drug experiment on our children shows what almost
no one expected.
Not only do the stimulant drugs used to treat "Attention-Deficit Hyperactive
Disorder" or ADHD as it is known not damage the brain, they appear to enhance
brain growth, helping afflicted children catch up in brain size to their more
That blockbuster finding, printed recently in the Journal of the American
Medical Association, is finally easing the fears of parents afraid of these
drugs and is sending experts on a mission to get the word out.
Apparently the article in the Journal of the AMA is based on a 10-year study
by the National Institute of Mental Health. The study revealed that children with
ADHD indeed have smaller brains to begin with, but those treated with psycho-stimulants
such as Ritalin experience brain growth.
What is one to believe? The National Institute of Mental Health is a federal
bureaucracy used by Congress to justify expenditures of billions of dollars to solve
such problems as the genetic causes of dyslexia.
What about those studies cited earlier in this article showing that these drugs
reduce brain size? Apparently they were performed by experts not on the payrolls
of the drug companies and not geared to gaining federal funding. Which means that
parents must still be wary of drugs that can kill young children.