British parents have been seen dancing in the cobbled streets this week with the news that another drug has been licensed for use on children with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).
This latest saviour of their children is Strattera (generic name: atomoxetine), which will be available on prescription from July. All ADHD drugs available thus far have been the methylphenidates such as Ritalin, whereas atomoxetine is not a stimulant and so, theoretically at least, has less potential for abuse.
Atomoxetine is unlikely to steal Ritalin's thunder, and for several reasons. Paediatricians have already made it clear that the newcomer will be used only in those cases where Ritalin has failed.
For one thing, they say they are comfortable with Ritalin and understand how it works. That's simple enough to understand: it's an amphetamine-based stimulant that has a paradoxical effect, and along the way offers a range of reactions such as insomnia, anorexia, nausea, palpitations, raised blood pressure, toxic psychosis, severe depression and liver toxicity.
A sudden shift to another drug also doesn't quite fit into the game plan for Ritalin. The manufacturer has been disappointed with the take-up of the drug in Europe whereas 5 million hyperactive kids in the USA are regularly taking it, and probably will continue to do so until they reach young adulthood. Last year, the manufacturer began a major push in Europe, and especially in the UK, American paediatrician Dr Lawrence Diller has told us.
Even so, atomoxetine's approval in the UK comes as a bit of a surprise. It fared badly in a major trial last month when it was compared with Ritalin, and as reported by the National Health Service on its own website. Less than a month later and it's approved. It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.