Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder who are involved in crime are less likely to reoffend when on treatment than not according to a Swedish study.

Better identification of the condition at a young age along with improved access to medication may reduce crime and save money say researchers from the Karolinska Institute.

However, study lead Dr Seena Fazel does warn that the benefits of the drugs must be weighed against harms.

"Medication may reduce impulsive choices and may enable people to better organise their lives - allowing them to stay in employment and maintain relationships," he said. 

"There are of course a lot of people with ADHD in the population who are not involved in crime so the side effects of any drugs used must be taken into account but if the chances of recidivism can be reduced by 30%, it would clearly affect the total crime numbers in many societies."

In the UK 3% of children have a diagnosis of ADHD, with half of them continuing to have the condition in adult life. 

Having looked at data from 25,000 Swedes with ADHD, the researchers found people with ADHD were more likely to commit crime (37% of men and 15% of women) than adults without the condition (9% of men and 2% women).

However, those that took their medication were 32-41% less likely to be convicted of a crime than when they were off medication for a period of six months or more.

This covered a variety of crimes - from petty crime to violent crime, with a reduction in all of these when people took medication.

Estimates suggest it costs £100-£300 a month to provide medication for someone with ADHD, and taking into account the potential costs of unemployment and the criminal justice system, the authors suggest this would "vastly outweigh" the costs of medication.

Prof Sue Bailey, president of the Royal College of Psychiatry, welcomed the study and said "it reminds us in an era of psychological therapies that medication can have a positive impact too".

The authors of the study point out ADHD can exist alongside other conditions such as conduct disorders, calling for further work to untangle the contribution these may make to criminal behaviour.

They feel the Swedish findings are applicable to the UK where rates of ADHD in children and the medication prescribed are broadly similar.

Posted 27/11/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com