The drugging of America's children

Armstrong Williams

11/2/2004 12:00:00 AM - Armstrong Williams

Now that the election is over, let's hope the White House can focus on the issue of the overmedication of young people with psychotropic drugs. Namely, the prescription of stimulants, such as Ritalin, for children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

For starters, there is no scientific basis for the diagnosis of ADHD. If a child is bored, distracted and/or boisterous in the classroom, he is often believed to be suffering from ADHD; as opposed to, say, childhood.

Every child in public school is required to undergo testing for attention deficit disorder. The most recent analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.6 million elementary school children were diagnosed with ADHD between 1997 and 1998.

By drugging these children into complacency, the pharmaceutical companies make lots of money off of children acting like children. A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that Ritalin has addictive qualities and cardiac side effects similar to those of cocaine. Nonetheless, doctors, school counselors and misinformed parents continue to push the stuff to kids.

Lawrence Smith and his wife know firsthand about the dangers of Ritalin. They lost their 14-year-old boy, Mathew, after Ritalin treatment exacerbated an existing heart condition. Smith says he was pressured into putting Mathew on Ritalin by the school's social worker. "She said that if we wouldn't consider getting Mathew on Ritalin for their diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, that social services could charge us with neglecting his educational and emotional needs. My wife and I were scared of the possibility of losing our children, if we did not comply." Smith feels that if they were informed about the risks involved with Ritalin or available alternatives, their child might be alive today.

So who is making all of these ADHD diagnoses? Often times it is school counselors who are often not qualified to make mental health assessments. Dr. Mary Ann Block, an advocate for the treatment of ADHD without drugs, warns that most of the schoolchildren labeled ADHD "have never had a thorough medical exam to rule out any health problems causing the symptoms or as a precaution before prescribing typical ADHD drugs that carry so many risks."

Instead of medicating our children maybe we should consider a return to parenting. My father was confronted with several boisterous children. His solution? A few stern words and the loud snap of a belt. Believe me, we paid attention.

Of course, nowadays parents are made to feel guilty for disciplining their children. There can even be hell to pay if complaints are lodged with social services agencies. So we opt instead to medicate. Medicate the child whose eyes glaze during science class. Medicate the child who displays a little too much childlike exuberance. Medicate him. Medicate her. Medicate everyone.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than a million children are being prescribed psychotropic drugs to help control their behavior. Some of those children will suffer serious side effects as a result of a faulty diagnosis of ADHD. Others, like Mathew, will die.

Against this backdrop, it is imperative that we pass legislation prohibiting teachers and other unqualified school personnel from making mental health diagnosis. Lawmakers also need to ensure that children receive thorough medical exams to rule out other possible causes of unruly behavior. Equally important is that parents receive full disclosure of the dangerous side effects of the psychotropic drugs being prescribed to their children.

Very simply, our schools should not be co-opted by drug companies. Nor should the minds of our youth be so carelessly tossed on the psychiatric assembly line.