January 14, 1996
Web posted at: 12:45 a.m. EST
From Medical Correspondent Dan Rutz
(CNN) -- Researchers for the U.S. government have found signs that Ritalin might cause cancer in mice. The scientists quickly add that there is no evidence that the drug, which is commonly prescribed for hyperactive children, causes any human cancers. But parents and experts say there are other reasons to reconsider its use.
Close to 2 million American children, and possibly more, take Ritalin to help them in school. The drug is prescribed to make it easier for students to pay attention and concentrate on their studies.
Many teachers, parents and even children swear by Ritalin as an essential aid to academic success. "It helps me sit down and read a book and it also helps me to stay calm," Zachary Borschuk says.
Zachary's mother, Linda, says that her child behaves well when he takes the Ritalin. "But when he's off of it, he's so unable to control any kind of stimulation coming to him. He's just nasty and frustrated," Borschuk says.
The drug that helps so many overcome family turmoil is under scrutiny as federal investigators report an increased incidence of cancer in mice given 30 times the usual human dose of Ritalin.
A spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration says that the experiment is not so convincing that children should be taken off of the drug. "We felt physicians and parents should know this and have a right to know this," a statement from the FDA says.
The two year-experiment comes amid a growing trend to diagnose more children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and to place them on Ritalin. "The real question that I have and that other researchers have is, are the right kids getting medication," child psychologist Stephen Garber says.
Neither Garber nor most other experts worry about the safety of stimulant medication but some question the quick-fix mentality that can make Ritalin the cornerstone of treatment for ADD. "So, if you have an organizational problem as a child, then you, even if the medication makes you feel better, you have to go back and be taught how to organize," Garber says.
Some parents have opted to take their children off of the drug because of such concerns as allergic reactions.
The Drake Institute of Los Angeles is among several in the country treating ADD without medicine. Instead, a form of bio feedback is used to teach children how to control their runaway thoughts. "I'm very concerned about how many children are medicated so aggressively today for this disorder. And everything in my medical intuition tells me it's wrong. We don't have long term studies on the effectiveness and safety of these drugs," Dr. David Velkoff, of the Drake Institute, says.
The nation's largest support group for families with children suffering from ADD endorses Ritalin use. CHADD, Children with ADD, also encourages parents not to quit medicating their children with Ritalin without consulting their doctor.
A drug company spokesperson points out that while there are many drugs that produce liver cancer in mice, Ritalin has never been linked to a single human liver tumor in the 40 years it's been used.
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