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Ryan Ehlis Back In School; Drug Maker Says Extreme Reaction To Drug Rare

Ten days after he began taking a widely used medicine to control his attention deficit disorder and help him with his college studies, Ryan Ehlis slipped into a psychotic fog and killed his infant daughter. Ehlis said, God told him to do it.

Ehlis declined comment on his case, but today, the 24-year-old UND student is back home with his common-law wife and three other children, out of jail, and back in school, acquitted of murder by a judge who ruled his psychotic state was an extremely rare side effect of the drug called Adderall. Ehlis said he returned to normal days after he stopped taking the medication.

Medical experts and the drug's manufacturer say that despite the slaying, Adderall remains a safe and effective drug for controlling attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Within days after taking the medicine in January, Ehlis started hearing voices. He believed God was telling him to leave his body and bring his daughter with him to save the world, said his lawyer, John Thelen. His conditioned worsened until, on Jan. 30, Ehlis killed his 5-week-old daughter, Tara, with a shotgun, then shot himself in the abdomen. He recovered from the wound and was charged with murder.

Psychiatrists testified before a judge that the shootings happened solely because of a psychotic state caused by the prescription drug. Judge Debbie Kleven agreed, ruling that Ehlis lacked the capacity to understand what he was doing.

A spokesman for Shire Richwood Inc., the maker of the drug stated that in very rare circumstances, it can cause psychotic episodes at recommended doses. During clinical trials of the drug, the spokesman said, there were no reported instances of psychotic disorders.

Dr. James Swanson, a professor at the University of California at Irvine who has studied Adderall, said he was surprised to hear of Ehlis' violent reaction. I knew that in high doses this would be a real concern, but not at the typical doses that are prescribed for clinical treatment, Swanson said.

Thelen said the drug was prescribed to Ehlis by a psychiatrist, and Ehlis was taking the prescribed dosage. As a boy, Ehlis had been diagnosed with ADHD and had taken Ritalin. Adderall is considered similar to Ritalin but is thought to be more effective in some cases for ADHD. Ritalin also carries a warning about potential psychosis in extremely rare cases.

Under the judge's order, Ehlis must have independent psychiatric evaluations, which will be reviewed at a hearing in about three months.

He really has come back, in what appears to be 100 percent of who he was before this incident, Thelen said.

Source: Associated Press, October 30, 1999