According to a research published Friday in JAMA Network Open, ADHD drugs may reduce the risk of suicide in children with hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, and other behavioural problems.
The study was carried out by researchers from the Lifespan Brain Institute at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania in order to fill a knowledge gap in juvenile suicide risk.
The significance, they argue, stems from the potential for influencing suicide prevention initiatives at a time when child suicide is on the rise.
“This study is an important step in the much-needed effort of childhood suicide prevention, as it leverages data collected from approximately 12,000 U.S. children to identify an actionable target to reduce childhood suicides,” study senior author Dr. Ran Barzilay, an assistant professor at LiBI, said in a press release.
According to the CDC, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 in 2018.
About three in four children in the United States with ADHD use prescription medication, according to the agency, while about 15% receive behavioral therapy and 32% receive both treatments.
Suicide rates are relatively low in preadolescent children, the researchers said, making it difficult to identify factors that may lead to or prevent suicidal tendencies in the age range.
There are also ethical limitations in enrolling potentially suicidal youth in placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials as well.
“In an ideal world, we want to test a medication effect on suicidality with a randomized prospective trial,” Barzilay said. “But given the challenges of conducting such studies, we are obligated as a society and as scientists to generate clinical insights using data collected in large-scale observational studies of children.”
The LiBI researchers, along with Dr. Gal Shoval of Tel Aviv University, analyzed data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study.
The data included a group of 11,878 children from 21 sites across the United States between the ages of 9 and 10 recruited through the school system.
Researchers found that of the 11,878 children in the study, 8.5% were treated with ADHD medications like methylphenidate, Adderall or clonidine and 8.8% reported past or current suicidality.
Children expressing suicidal ideation also had more externalizing symptoms and were more likely to receive ADHD medication.
Among the children who took ADHD medication, the odds for suicidality were less, suggesting a moderating role for ADHD medications in the children.
The researchers analyzed data from the participants’ one-year follow-up assessments and found that the same children were less likely to be suicidal a year later.
“Given the connection between childhood suicidality and poor adult mental health, these findings emphasize the importance of better and more thorough screening of school-aged children for externalizing behavioral symptoms,” Barzilay said.
“These symptoms are treatable, and addressing them early has the strong potential to prevent and mitigate serious mental health issues later in life,” Barzilay said