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Research has shown that 20–30% of prisoners meet the diagnostic criteria for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Methylphenidate reduces ADHD symptoms, but effects in prisoners are uncertain because of comorbid mental health and substance use disorders.
To estimate the efficacy of an osmotic-release oral system methylphenidate (OROS-methylphenidate) in reducing ADHD symptoms in young adult prisoners with ADHD.
We conducted an 8-week parallel-arm, double-blind, randomised placebo-controlled trial of OROS-methylphenidate versus placebo in male prisoners (aged 16–25 years) meeting the DSM-5 criteria for ADHD. Primary outcome was ADHD symptoms at 8 weeks, using the investigator-rated Connors Adult ADHD Rating Scale (CAARS-O). Thirteen secondary outcomes were measured, including emotional dysregulation, mind wandering, violent attitudes, mental health symptoms, and prison officer and educational staff ratings of behaviour and aggression.
In the OROS-methylphenidate arm, mean CAARS-O score at 8 weeks was estimated to be reduced by 0.57 points relative to the placebo arm (95% CI −2.41 to 3.56), and non-significant. The responder rate, defined as a 20% reduction in CAARS-O score, was 48.3% for the OROS-methylphenidate arm and 47.9% for the placebo arm. No statistically significant trial arm differences were detected for any of the secondary outcomes. Mean final titrated dose was 53.8 mg in the OROS-methylphenidate arm.
ADHD symptoms did not respond to OROS-methylphenidate in young adult prisoners. The findings do not support routine treatment with OROS-methylphenidate in this population. Further research is needed to evaluate effects of higher average dosing and adherence to treatment, multi-modal treatments and preventative interventions in the community.