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World Today

Michigan Medical Examiner Blames Ritalin For Death of Teenager

Aired April 17, 2000 - 8:29 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ritalin is a widely prescribed drug designed to increase a child's alertness and now a Michigan medical examiner is blaming it in the death of a teenager.

But CNN Detroit bureau chief Ed Garsten reports not everyone is convinced the drug is at fault.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED GARSTEN, CNN DETROIT BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Fourteen- year-old Matthew Smith took the drug Ritalin for 10 years as a treatment for attention deficit disorder. He died March 21st of a heart attack, a heart attack the Oakland County medical examiner concluded brought on by long-term exposure to Ritalin which he says caused a constriction of small blood vessels that supply the heart.

DR. L.J. DRAGOVIC, MEDICAL EXAMINER, OAKLAND CO., MICHIGAN: They show chronic change, thickening of their walls with the interior circulation and that is the explanation for the heart attack that this kid suffered as a terminal event.

GARSTEN: A leading expert on Ritalin says, however, there's never been a death directly attributed to the drug, but it can cause problems for certain individuals.

DR. DAVID ROSENBERG, CHILD PSYCHIATRIST, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF MICHIGAN: Rarely Ritalin is associated with increases in blood pressure and pulse, so you don't want to prescribe Ritalin in someone who has an underlying heart condition.

GARSTEN: A spokesman for Novartis, the company that makes Ritalin told CNN "there is no evidence to connect this death to Ritalin," that the company is taking it very seriously, and he pointed that "there were more than 170 studies involving over 600 school-aged children showing Ritalin is safe and effective."

The American Heart Association says that cardiovascular monitoring is not necessary for most children using Ritalin. In fact, says Dr. Rosenberg, Ritalin has been shown to be generally safe.

ROSENBERG: You find at large of the thousands and thousands of children who have been treated by Ritalin, it's done extraordinary good with minimal to no side effects. GARSTEN: Dr. Dragovic, the medical examiner, insists Ritalin is the only possible reason the 14-year-old boy suffered a fatal heart attack.

DRAGOVIC: There is no other condition that would have caused this without this being tied into a stimulant used over a long period of time.

GARSTEN: Dr. Rosenberg is dubious of that theory, insisting Ritalin is the drug that added quality to Matthew Smith's short life, not a drug which ended it.

Ed Garsten, CNN, Detroit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: In recent years, more and more doctors have prescribed Ritalin to children under 6. In light of that, the National Institute of Mental Health this month announced a five-year study on the effects of Ritalin on preschoolers.

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