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Ritalin and the Health Ranger

Posted Jul 05 2009 9:35pm

According to the Natural News Network they “focus on providing empowering content for intelligent readers.” A recent example is a report on research into potential dangers from ritalin and similar stimulants that are prescribed to an increasing number of children and adolescents for the treatment of ADHD. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry an estimated 2.5 million children and teens in the USA are taking these drugs and their use amongst adults is increasing. So it is important to assess their safety.

Whatever their intelligence, readers are unlikely to feel empowered after reading Mike Adams’ (aka the Health Ranger ) recent article for Natural News Network, “Ritalin ADHD Drug Linked to 500 Percent Increased Risk of Sudden Death in Children.”

He tells us that

According to scientific research funded by the FDA and the National Institute of Mental Health, drugs such as Ritalin increase the risk of sudden death by five hundred percent among children and teens

And that is all he tells us. There is nothing else about the research in the article, not even a reference or a web link to the research. We are told that according to other research (again no references are provided) “ADHD drugs stunt the physical growth of children while impairing brain development.”

Then we get the usual tirade about ADHD being a fictitious disease, invented by the drug companies in order to boost profits from drug sales. And of course they are in cahoots with the FDA and the psychiatric profession. This wholesale chemical poisoning of our children in the name of profit is, of course, a holocaust and children are dying day by day while the mainstream media remains silent.

The media are so compromised that our trusty Lone Ranger had to use all his ranger skills to unearth this story. Well no. Actually he set up a Google news alert and read it in the Washington Post and on ABC News. So much for the media conspiracy of silence.

Of course he had to rely on the media because the drug companies are busy supressing negative research and hiding it away in obscure journals aided and abetted by “Corrupt, dishonest psych doctors “ Except that the paper is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry and it is open access so anyone can read it for free.

This conspiracy of silence seems even more unlikely when you read that the study was supported in part by a contract from the Food and Drug Administration and a grant from NIMH (R01-MH56250) and many of the study’sauthors have received funding from drug companies.

Dr. Walsh has received research support from AstraZeneca. Dr. Duan has received research support from Pfizer. Dr. Olfson has received research funding from Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca and has worked as a consultant for AstraZeneca and Pfizer and as a speaker for Janssen. Dr. Greenhill has received research support from Johnson & Johnson, Otsuka, and Forest. The remaining authors report no competing interests.

The study did something very simple.

Mortality data from 1985–1996 state vital statistics were used to identify 564 cases of sudden death occurring at ages 7 through 19 years across the United States along with a matched group of 564 young people who died as passengers in motor vehicle traffic accidents. The primary exposure measure was the presence of amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, or methylphenidate according to informant reports or as noted in medical examiner records, toxicology results, or death certificates.

So the research team compared deaths in traffic accidents, on the assumption that children’s medication status would have little bearing on survival rates in such circumstances, with other instances of sudden death. They found that the rate of methylphenidate usage for unexplained sudden deaths was five times more than for deaths in road accidents. So does this mean that Ritalin will make your child five times more likely to die unexpectedly than a child who is not taking Ritalin?

Not exactly. The study did find a clear difference in rates of medication between the two groups and subsequent statistical analysis indicated that this difference was significant and not just an artefact. But what does it signify?

Around 4% of American children are currently taking prescribed medications like Ritalin for ADHD. So you would expect that if Ritalin was not a factor in sudden deaths amongst children, we could expect to find around 4% of such children on Ritalin or similar medications. That works out at around 45 children or 22/23 in each group. In fact they only found 12 children on such medications – 10 in the sudden death group and 2 of the victims of traffic accidents.

Rather than Ritalin increasing the likelihood of sudden death, it is plausible to argue from these figures that Ritalin protects against sudden death. Instead of an expected figure of 22/23 Ritalin users they found only 10. and for traffic accidents the figure is even more dramatic – 2 instead of 22/23.

The authors point to all sorts of reasons why their results hould treated with caution: the small sample size; recall bias amongst parents; the rarity of sudden unexplained deaths in children; even the idea that Ritalin protects against sudden death by making children less likely to engage in potentially life threatening actiivities.

If our intrepid health ranger had read the study he would have known this. He would have also known that he has completely misrepresented its findings. Actually, if he had only read the press reports that he links to, he would have known that he has completely misrepresented its findings. I think he does know this and has deliberately misrepresented this study. Either that or he is the victim of his own conspiracy theoryand is totally impervious to any evidence that contradicts his preconceptions.

Whatever the case may be, anyone studying at the University of Google is more likely to get a D minus than a PhD if they rely on the Health Ranger and Natural News for their information. Though to be fair he does do a nice line in organic hair care products from The Valley of Longevity and he will even help you to buy real estate in the actual Valley in southern Ecuador.

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