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Questions Raised Over Ritalin

Ritalin is no stranger to controversy, reports CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.


As the most widely used drug to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children, it has been criticized for being a quick fix for behavioral problems and for being vastly overprescribed


But now, the drug is being blamed for the most serious side effect--death. And questions are being raised about its safety. Matthew Smith took Ritalin from the age 6 to the day he died at age 14.


"He said 'I don't want to take it. It makes me feel stoned,'" says Matthew's father, Larry Smith. "And yet he took it. He took it because we told him he needed to take it."


On March 21st, Matthew collapsed at home and was never revived. After an autopsy, the medical examiner's conclusion was that Matthew's heart had been damaged by "long term use of methylphenidate."


"What we are left with is a 14-year-old child with dramatic charges in the heart and ten years of exposure to a stimulant of this kind," says forensic pathologist Dr. L.J. Dragovic.


Ritalin is in the same class of drug as amphetamines--like speed or methamphetamine--which stimulate the central nervous system.


After studying Ritalin, the American Heart Association recently determined that children who take it do not need routine cardiac screening. But possible side effects listed on the package insert do include abnormal or rapid heartbeat and chest pain.


New York University pediatric cardiologist Dr. Michael Artman says those side effects are extremely rare. Millions of children take it without any problems at all.


"I think it's a bit of an overstatement to link the use of Ritalin to the unfortunate death of this child," says Artman.


But Matthew's father says he's absolutely convinced Ritalin killed his son.


The report on Matthew Smith's death has been sent on to the Food and Drug Administration, which will try to determine if this heartbreaking story means Ritalin's long term effects on the heart need to be investigated further.

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