ADHD Drugs May Lower Risk of Death

Scientists say starting ADHD medications soon after diagnosis may help reduce the risk of death from unnatural causes, including premature death from alcohol and drug overdoses.

Previous research suggests that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at increased risk of death due to accidents, unintentional injury, or other unnatural causes. However, it's unclear if medications used to treat ADHD, such as Adderall, could lower those risks.

To investigate this further, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, conducted a study using 148,578 Swedish individuals diagnosed with ADHD. The researchers wanted to determine whether participants treated with ADHD drugs had a lower mortality rate from unnatural causes than those not taking medication.

The study, published on March 12 in JAMA, found that people treated with ADHD medications within three months after diagnosis had a 25% lower risk of death from unnatural causes.

The study looked at individuals ages 6 to 64 who were diagnosed with ADHD from 2007 to 2018. The team followed the participants for two years after diagnosis and assessed mortality due to natural causes like physical health conditions and unnatural causes such as unintentional injury, suicide, and accidental poisoning.

After analyzing the data, the team found that individuals who began treatment with ADHD medications — including amphetamine (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin), lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), dexamphetamine (Dexedrine), atomoxetine (Strattera), or guanfacine (Intuniv) — within three months after diagnosis were significantly less likely to die of unnatural causes.

In a press release, first author Lin Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Institutet, said, "The study showed that there is a link between initiation of medication and a lower risk of death. This was true regardless of the cause of death, but the risk of dying from unnatural causes, such as alcohol and drug overdose, decreased the most."

The scientists say that ADHD medication may lower the risk of unnatural death by alleviating ADHD-related symptoms and improving impulse control and decision-making. Effective management of these symptoms may help reduce the occurrence of fatal events.

While this observational study suggests that starting treatment soon after an ADHD diagnosis may be important, the study's authors say it's critical to determine whether these medications continue to lower mortality risks over time due to the drug's potentially negative health effects.

For example, recent research found associations between ADHD medications and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Moving forward, the research team plans to study the long-term health impacts of these drugs and investigate how doses, length of treatment, and sex differences play a role in these effects.

Promising results amid ADHD drug shortage

Despite the study's encouraging findings, people diagnosed with ADHD may have difficulty accessing the medication they need due to an ongoing shortage of Adderall and other stimulant drugs.

In 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the shortage, which prompted federal agencies to address the issue.

In August 2023, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) urged drug manufacturers to increase the production of ADHD medications. As a result, several drug makers agreed to step up production efforts.

Still, according to the FDA, some ADHD medications are still in short supply due to "unprecedented demand" for the drugs or limited availability of the medication's active ingredient.

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