ADHD medication and risk of suicide

A Chinese research team performed two types of meta-analyses to compare the risk of suicide for ADHD patients taking ADHD medication as opposed to those not taking medication.

The first type of meta-analysis combined six large population studies with a total of over 4.7 million participants. These were located on three continents – Europe, Asia, and North America – and more specifically Sweden, England, Taiwan, and the United States.

The risk of suicide among those taking medication was found to be about a quarter less than for unmediated individuals, though the results were barely significant at the 95 percent confidence level (p = 0.49, just a sliver below the p = 0.5 cutoff point). There were no significant differences between males and females, except that looking only at males or females reduced sample size and made results non-significant.

Differentiating between patients receiving stimulant and non-stimulant medications produced divergent outcomes. A meta-analysis of four population studies covering almost 900,000 individuals found stimulant medications to be associated with a 28 percent reduced risk of suicide. On the other hand, a meta-analysis of three studies with over 62,000individuals found no significant difference in suicide risk for non-stimulant medications. The benefit, therefore, seems limited to stimulant medication.

The second type of meta-analysis combined three within-individual studies with over 3.9 million persons in the United States, China, and Sweden. The risk of suicide among those taking medication was found to be almost a third less than for unmediated individuals, though the results were again barely significant at the 95 percent confidence level (p =0.49, just a sliver below the p = 0.5 cutoff point). Once again, there were no significant differences between males and females, except that looking only males or females reduced the sample size and made results non-significant.

Differentiating between patients receiving stimulant and non-stimulant medications once again produced divergent outcomes. Meta-analysis of the same three studies found a 25 percent reduced risk of suicide among those taking stimulant medications. But as in the population studies, a meta-analysis of two studies with over 3.9 million persons found no reduction in risk among those taking non-stimulant medications.

A further meta-analysis of two studies with 3.9 million persons found no reduction in suicide risk among persons taking ADHD medications for 90 days or less, “revealing the importance of duration and adherence to medication in all individuals prescribed stimulants for ADHD.”

The authors concluded, “exposure to non-stimulants is not associated with a higher risk of suicide attempts. However, a lower risk of suicide attempts was observed for stimulant drugs. However, the results must be interpreted with caution due to the evidence of heterogeneity ...”

Wen-Juan Liu, Hong-Jing Mao, Lin-Lin Hu, Ming-Fen Song, Hai-Yin Jiang, Lei Zhang, “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medication and risk of suicide attempt: A meta-analysis of observational studies,” Pharmacoepidemiology& Drug Safety (2020),https://doi.org/10.1002/pds.5110.

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