Mixed amphetamine salts might be the best treatment to reduce ADHD symptoms in adults

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A new Cochrane review has found 7 randomised controlled trials that investigate the efficacy of amphetamine derivatives against placebo or an active intervention.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a childhood onset psychiatric disorder that can persist into adulthood in up to 50% of patients. From a clinical point of view, ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity, mood instability, irritability, difficulties in maintaining attention, lack of organization and impulsive behaviours. The presence of other disorders occurring at the the same time is also common, especially mood disorders and substance abuse. It seems that amphetamines could reverse the underlying neurological problems that feature in ADHD, and so improve ADHD symptoms.

The review found seven studies, which enrolled 1091 patients. These studies compared amphetamines to placebo and three of them also compared amphetamines with other drugs: guanfacine, modafinil and paroxetine. Three amphetamine derivatives were investigated: dexamphetamine, lisdexamphetamine and mixed amphetamine salts (MAS). Treatment length ranged from two to 20 weeks.

All amphetamines improved ADHD symptoms but overall they did not make people more likely to stay in treatment and were associated with a higher risk of treatment ending early due to adverse events. One type of amphetamine, mixed amphetamine salts, did, however, increase retention in treatment. The review found no evidence that higher doses worked better than lower ones. The review did not find any difference in effectiveness between immediate-release and sustained-release formulations. Therefore, it appears that short-term treatment with amphetamines reduces ADHD symptoms, but studies assessing the effects of amphetamines for longer periods of time are needed.

The reviewers conclude:

Amphetamines improved short-term ADHD symptom severity. Mixed amphetamine salts also increased retention in treatment. Amphetamines were associated with higher attrition due to adverse events. The short study length and the restrictive inclusion criteria limit the external validity of these findings. Furthermore, the possibility that the results of the included studies were biased was high, which could have led to an overestimation of amphetamine efficacy.

Castells X, Ramos-Quiroga JA, Bosch R, Nogueira M, Casas M. Amphetamines for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adultsCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD007813. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007813.pub2.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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