. . . the right care at the right time

The ADHD Crisis and the “Quick-Fix” Society

By Michele Bernard, RN

“I regret the analogy and won’t be saying that again.”

—Dr. Ned Hallowell, child psychiatrist and author of best-selling books on ADD-ADHD, who for years told parents that Adderall and other ADD-ADHD stimulants were “Safer than Aspirin.”

The news last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was that nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11
percent of all school-age children have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Those figures represent a mind-boggling 41% increase in the last decade!

ADHD is described by most experts as resulting from abnormal chemical levels in the brain that impair a person’s impulse control and attention skills.

The reason for the increase doesn’t necessarily mean that more kids are ADHD – it’s that they’re being diagnosed that way for a variety of reasons, and none of them are good.

The most obvious reason is reflected in Dr. Hallowell’s mea culpa: Stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall  can drastically improve the lives of those with ADHD but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and even psychosis.

Hmm. Didn’t doctors shill for cigarettes up until the 60’s before we knew better? Didn’t they over-prescribe Oxycontin and Vicodin until they created a sea of addicts? Now, while some doctors contend that rising ADHD diagnosis rates prove that the disorder is being better recognized and accepted, the more likely reality is that millions of children take the medication merely to calm behavior or to do better in school. 30% of the drugs are being shared with classmates as study enhancers.

In a recent New York Times article, ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall  are duly recognized as marvels of pharmaceutical science and truly enhance the lives of ADHD sufferers. But it’s dead wrong when some parents and doctors hastily view complaints of inattention as full-blown ADHD, affirming parents exposure to pharmaceutical advertising that emphasizes how medication can substantially improve their child’s life.

It’s a nasty sequence — parents pressure doctors to help with their children’s troublesome behavior or slipping grades and out comes the prescription pad.

“We need to ensure balance. The right medications for ADHD, given to the right people, can make a huge difference” says CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. “Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate.”

At New Oakland, we hear it all the time. “Johnny isn’t sitting quietly at his desk. We think he has ADHD.” We understand that he may have ADHD – but it very well could simply be an expected part of childhood, and isn’t pathological.

New Oakland’s founder, Dr. Ismail Sendi insisted that we include on our website his long-standing belief that ADD-ADHD was being over-diagnosed. He surmised this nearly 20 years ago, well before this latest explosion of cases.

For the record, under “Psychological Conditions” we include the following:

Diagnosing ADD and ADHD has its challenges. Other factors often cloud or mask assessments of ADD and ADHD. Those factors include:

  • Learning disabilities (especially among adolescent boys)
  • Cognitive/Perceptual/Sensory Motor delay(C.P.S.M.), mostly among preadolescents and girls
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Paradoxical parenting like pro-active mothering and reactive fathering
  • Peer and culture based stressors that cause vulnerabilities

We pride ourselves on not readily handing out medication just because a parent asks for it. ADHD can be a lifelong condition for which medication can work wonders. But it’s shameful to cavalierly prescribe these powerful, addictive drugs as a quick-fix before we’re fairly certain it’s truly in a child’s best interests.