Wednesday, June 19, 2013

ADHD in the News: Are Stimulants the Answer?

An article published in the Wall Street Journal asks if American doctors may be repeating a mistake they made in the late 1960s.  In the 50's and 60's, it was common for doctors to prescribe 'uppers,' or amphetamines to mothers after childbirth to 'keep them from feeling tired.'  In fact, when I introduced my Grandmother to the song "Mothers Little Helper" by the Rolling Stones, she told me that that was precisely her experience with doctors after childbirth. They gave the mothers 'pep pills,' the way some doctors today prescribe iron supplements.
Eventually, new regulations on amphetamines helped reduce demand for the drugs. Then, the ADHD crisis hit.  According to the authors, 20% of boys currenlty attending school will be diagnosed with, and medicated for, ADHD. In a sense, we're conducting a huge experiment on the effects of long-term amphetamine use on the male population. While some percentage of the boys may need medication, when prescriptions hit 1/5 of the population, we've probably crossed the line into medicating 'normal' rather than 'ill.'

Apparently, some of the push for more medication comes from policy makers who believe that early medication may prevent later drug and alcohol abuse. However, recent studies found that the link between ADHD and drug abuse remains regardless of the treatment a child receives.

The article's authors call for doctors and teachers to take a second look at using medication as the default treatment for ADHD. Unfortunately, I don't think schools will stop referring kids for medication anytime soon. In the current environment, where hardcore academics begin in kindergarten and many children receive only one recess a day, we're going to see more and more children diagnosed with ADHD. In fact, I'd argue that corralling children in a classroom for 7 hours followed by 3 hours of daycare and several hours of homework is a system designed to induce ADHD, even in children whose brains were developing normally.

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