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updated 5/24/2004 7:22:11 PM ET 2004-05-24T23:22:11

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Is there a link between Ritalin and suicide?

Question:
My son is 9 years old and has been on Ritalin for about two years. We tried for a year to manage his ADHD without medication without success. Within the first year on medication he went from D's to A's in school. He went from being completely unable to read (in the second grade) to reading at grade level in the third grade. He's now able to complete tasks, even multiple tasks, at home without being redirected back to task repeatedly. There is no doubt in my mind that medication was the right decision, a decision that was made with consultation of a pediatric neurologist, pediatrician, and family psychologist.

Just when I've learned to ignore the disapproving looks I get if someone finds out my son is on Ritalin (of course I MUST be one of "those parents" who just medicate my child to keep him quiet and keep him from "being a kid"'), now I'm hearing news of a link between suicide attempts and Ritalin. My mother-in-law got wind of this and called me in hysterics telling me to take her grandson off the medication because of some nut job on the radio saying the Columbine shooters were on it.

Is there really evidence that Ritalin may cause suicidal or violent tendencies? Or do you think (as I do) that Ritalin is being misused by some doctors to treat deeper mental disorders that are going untreated and leading to this behavior? Or if there truly is a link, are there any alternative medications that I should ask his doctor about?

Answer: There is no link between Ritalin and violence or suicide. However, there is a link between untreated ADHD and poor school performance, fewer school years completed, juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, a higher divorce rate, an increased number of auto accidents, and a lower level of job attainment. Now, which group do you think has the higher rate of depression and potential for suicide, those whose ADHD has been treated or those who have been untreated?

Richard Sogn, MD, is trained in psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry. His interests are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and related disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette's syndrome.

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