Some parents are strong advocates for treating children’s behavioral disorders with pharmaceuticals; others refuse to. But whichever side of the fence you’re on, a new study about medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) reveals some surprising conclusions.


Criminality in adults with ADHD dropped considerably when they were receiving ADHD medication to help them control impulses, finds the study which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.


That might not come as a surprise: Treat a disorder with medication, and improved behavior is realized. But the study could have further-reaching implications. Past research has shown that up to two-thirds of young offenders and half the adult prison population had childhood ADHD, and many may still have symptoms. Bringing medication into the equation could potentially have a dramatic effect on overall crime rates and could mean the difference between freedom and incarceration for sufferers of ADHD.


The British and Swedish researchers who conducted the study gathered data on more than 25,000 people with ADHD. After analyzing medication records and comparing them to criminal records from 2006 to 2009, they found that the number of crimes committed was 32 percent less for men and 41 percent less for women who were on medication, as opposed to those who weren't.


Paul Lichtenstein of Sweden's Karolinska Institute, who worked on the study, said the results suggested that encouraging more ADHD patients to take medication could help to reduce crime and recidivism rates.


"It's said that roughly 30 to 40 percent of long-serving criminals have ADHD. If their chances of recidivism can be reduced by 30 percent, it would clearly affect total crime numbers in many societies," Lichtenstein said in a statement.


"We've shown that ADHD medication very probably reduces the risk of crime," researcher Henrik Larsson also of the Karolinska Institute, told Reuters. "However, most medical treatments can have adverse side effects, so risks must be weighed up against benefits."


Related ADHD stories on MNN:

ADHD drugs could cut crime rates
Ritalin and other stimulants effectively help criminally-inclined ADHD patients to control impulses, experts say.