Methylphenidate: Effective or Defective?

New research concerning the efficacy of methylphenidate, brand-name Ritalin, revealed disturbing results. Study authors, led by Ole Jakob Storebø, performed a meta-analysis of 185 randomized-controlled trials which included 12,245 participants to determine the effects of methylphenidate in children and adolescents with ADHD.

The main findings reveal that most of the scientific information doctors use to prescribe methylphenidate is very low-quality evidence. What does “low-quality evidence” mean? Essentially, the research reveals that measures such as teacher reported symptoms, general behavior, quality of life, serious and non-serious adverse events, are all at high risk for reporting bias, imprecision, indirectness, heterogeneity, and publication bias. Although methylphenidate may improve concentration, hyperactivity and impulsivity, it is unclear what the magnitude of these benefits are, especially in comparison to the side-effects like sleeping problems and decreased appetite. In sum, it is uncertain whether taking methylphenidate over a long period of time is effective in treating ADHD: “At the moment, the quality of the available evidence means that we cannot say for sure whether taking methylphenidate will improve the lives of children and adolescents with ADHD,” the authors conclude.

What does this mean for somebody with ADHD? If he or she is already on medthylphenidate without adverse effects, it is not advisable to stop use based on these results. Discontinuing treatment may have further adverse effects. You should consult your doctor if you have any questions about this new research.

What about doctors? The researchers urge clinicians to take extreme caution in prescribing methylphenidate, and consider the full scope of the situation before committing to its use.

What next? The authors encourage further research with depersonalized individual data and reliable reporting of all treatment outcomes. More research should also be conducted concerning non-pharmacological strategies for helping individuals living with ADHD.

It is likely that given these results, more analysis concerning the efficacy of ADHD-related drugs will occur. Keep on the look out for reports and new data. This is not the end of the story, more is to come!