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Column originally published Apr 28, 2015

Health Canada Warning On ADHD Medications

Question: Our teenage son was diagnosed with ADHD since he was in kindergarten. He was hyperactive and disruptive; he didn’t get along with other children. He was not invited to birthday parties, and had no self-esteem. One day he asked me why he was even born. It broke my heart. Fortunately, with the help of our paediatrician, he is a completely different boy now. He is confident, courteous; he excels in sports, and he is at the top of his class. He has been taking medicine daily since his diagnosis. On the occasional day when we forget his medicine, he is more hyper and impulsive, which reminds us that he does need his medicine. I just heard that Health Canada has a warning about ADHD medications. Should I be concerned about it?


I am sure that you are not the only parent who is concerned about Health Canada’s warning.  Let me explain to you what I believe is the problem, and what you and other parents should do.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD, is a genetic condition that affects the brain of 5-10% of children and adults.  Many children are hyperactive and impulsive; they can disrupt classroom and have difficulty waiting for their turn or getting along with other children.  Some of them have difficulty making or keeping friends.  Because of their behaviour, they may not get invited to birthday parties.  As a result, they feel alone and sad, and many have little or no self-esteem.  I have seen a number of children who talked about not wanting to live before they receive any medication.

In addition, many children with ADHD are big time worriers.  They are born that way, and they worry about everything and anything.  These children have anxiety disorder as part of their brain condition.  When I ask family history, almost always there are family members who have similar problems on one or both sides of the family.  Therefore, these children are born with anxiety in addition to ADHD.  As they become teenagers, some of them will develop depression.

Health Canada has received reports that a small number of individuals who took ADHD medications have complained of suicidal thoughts or have committed suicide.  However, it does not mean that these are the side effects of ADHD medications.

Quite the contrary, ADHD medications can help children and youths in multiple ways.  They are able to pay better attention in class; they have higher marks and better self-esteem.  They are less likely to get into trouble in and out of school.

However, those who have co-morbid anxiety and depression in addition to ADHD can still develop severe depression.  ADHD medications are not meant to treat anyone with depression.  Therefore, it is most important for parents to watch and monitor their children for symptoms of anxiety and depression, and inform their physicians right away.  Proper treatment with counselling and medications can prevent these tragic events.

I am very glad that your son is doing so well.  You should be proud of him as well as yourself.  He should stay on his current medication if there is no side effect.