Children's Health

ADHD Drug Concerns

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received 135 reports of serious side effects for Concerta, a widely prescribed drug to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. Potential side effects include psychosis, hallucinations and anxiety. Farai Chideya speaks with NPR's health policy correspondent Joanne Silberner.

ED GORDON, host:

Federal regulators are considering whether to alter the label of a widely prescribed drug. Concerta is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. The US Food and Drug Administration has received 135 reports of Concerta's side effects, including psychosis, hallucinations and anxiety. The FDA also intends to add warnings that the drug may be related to suicidal thoughts among its users. NEWS & NOTES' Farai Chideya spoke with NPR's health policy correspondent, Joanne Silberner, for more on this story.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Let's talk a little bit first about what ADHD is.

JOANNE SILBERNER reporting:

Well, I think if you have a child with it you know, and if you don't, you've probably seen a child. It's just an inability to concentrate and focus. And this affects not only the child, but the family, as well, because it can be really all-consuming to try and help this child. A lot of the kids are really frustrated. You know, they know that they're different. They know that they can't focus, or they're very bright and can't get any kind of grades because they just can't apply themselves. It's a difficult problem to deal with, both for the child and the family.

CHIDEYA: So some drugs like Ritalin and Concerta are being administered to these kids to try to help them calm down and focus. How often are drugs like this prescribed?

SILBERNER: A lot. But, like is true with most drugs, it's really hard to know. You can say, for example, that 7.8 million prescriptions were written for Concerta last year, but those are 30-day prescriptions, 90-day prescriptions. The estimate really just gets down to millions, or a lot. So that any side effects here, if they're co--you know, even if they're rare are gonna affect a fair number of kids.

CHIDEYA: So you have 7.8 million prescriptions written just for Concerta. You have 135 reports of side effects. Is that--when you talk about something like the Food and Drug Administration, is that a lot of reports? A little? How concerned should people be about this?

SILBERNER: Well, that's a great question. Now these reports come in voluntarily, and sometimes they come in more often if the drug is in the news so that doctors are thinking to link problems with the drug, or sometimes they don't come in because of that because the doctors figure, oh, everybody already knows about it. It's really not clear how many kids run into problems with these drugs, especially because the condition can on its own be associated with other problems absent the drugs. For example, anxiety is--can be very common in kids who are frustrated, terribly frustrated, you know, because they're trying to do good, they're trying to fulfill expectations, and they just can't.

CHIDEYA: So what should a parent of a child with ADHD do, knowing that there is not officially a warning about these drugs or this drug, but there is talk about it?

SILBERNER: What they should do is get the best medical advice they can get in their area. It might be a primary care doctor who's experienced with this, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a social worker--somebody who's dealt with kids with ADHD before--and get those people to help you work through it. Now they can't give you a clear answer. Nobody really knows how often these drugs cause side effects. And the other thing to remember for the families is that every drug--every drug I know of, at least--can cause side effects. You can be allergic to penicillin. You know, other drugs don't work in some people and do work in others. Any time you give your kid a drug, you're taking a risk. You've got to weigh that against the possible benefit. Unfortunately, in this case, the risk is unclear, but again, you know, you've got to think of that every time you give your kid a drug.

CHIDEYA: All right, on that note, I'm sure we will stay in tune to this controversy. Joanne Silberner is NPR's health policy correspondent. She joined us from our studio in Washington, DC.

Thank you.

SILBERNER: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Farai Chideya, NPR News.

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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