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Lancet Psychiatry. 2019 Aug;6(8):651-658. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30189-0. Epub 2019 Jun 17.

Methylphenidate and the risk of psychosis in adolescents and young adults: a population-based cohort study.

Author information

1
National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) MindTech MedTech Cooperative, NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and Centre for ADHD and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Across the Lifespan, Institute of Mental Health, Division of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK. Electronic address: chris.hollis@nottingham.ac.uk.
2
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Instituet, Stockholm, Sweden.
3
Department of Applied Health Science, School of Public Health, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA.
4
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Instituet, Stockholm, Sweden; Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA.
5
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Instituet, Stockholm, Sweden; Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden.
6
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Instituet, Stockholm, Sweden; School of Medical Sciences, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

There is a clinical concern that prescribing methylphenidate, the most common pharmacological treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), might increase the risk of psychotic events, particularly in young people with a history of psychosis. We aimed to determine whether the risk of psychotic events increases immediately after initiation of methylphenidate treatment or, in the longer term, 1 year after treatment initiation in adolescents and young adults with and without a previously diagnosed psychotic disorder.

METHODS:

In this cohort study, we used population-based observational data from the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register, the National Patient Register, and the Total Population Register, three population-based registers containing data on all individuals in Sweden, to attain data on sex, birth, death, migration, medication use, and psychotic events for all eligible participants. We screened individuals on these registers to identify those receiving methylphenidate treatment, and who were aged 12-30 years at the start of treatment, for their inclusion in the study. We used a within-individual design to compare the incidence of psychotic events in these individuals during the 12-week periods immediately before and after methylphenidate initiation. Longer term risk was assessed by comparing the incidence of psychotic events 12 weeks before methylphenidate initiation and during a 12-week period one calendar year before the initiation of methylphenidate with the incidence of these events during the 12-week period one calendar year after methylphenidate initiation. We estimated the incidence rate ratios (IRR) and 95% CIs of psychotic events after the initation of methylphenidate treatment, relative to the events before treatment, which were defined as any hospital visit (inpatient admission or outpatient attendance, based on data from the National Patient Register) because of psychosis, using the International Classification of Diseases version 10 definition. Analyses were stratified by whether the individual had a history of psychosis.

FINDINGS:

We searched the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register to find eligible individuals who had received methylphenidate between Jan 1, 2007 and June 30, 2012. 61 814 individuals were screened, of whom 23 898 (38·7%) individuals were assessed and 37 916 (61·3%) were excluded from the study because they were outside of the age criteria at the start of treatment, they had immigrated, emigrated, or died during the study period, or because they were administered other ADHD medications. The median age at methylphenidate initiation was 17 years, and a history of psychosis was reported in 479 (2·0%) participants. The IRR of psychotic events in the 12-week period after initiation of methylphenidate treatment relative to that in the 12-week period before treatment start was 1·04 (95% CI 0·80-1·34) in adolescents and young adults without a history of psychosis and 0·95 (0·69-1·30) among those with a history of psychosis.

INTERPRETATION:

Contrary to clinical concerns, we found no evidence that initiation of methylphenidate treatment increases the risk of psychotic events in adolescents and young adults, including in those individuals with a history of psychosis. Our study should reassure clinicians considering initiating methylphenidate treatment for ADHD in adolescents and young adults, and it challenges the widely held view in clinical practice that methylphenidate should be avoided, or its use restricted, in individuals with a history of psychosis.

FUNDING:

Swedish Research Council, National Institute of Mental Health, UK National Institute of Health Research Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre.

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