Our kids are on too many drugs — and the drug companies win

"There's no way 1 in 5 high school boys has ADHD," says a psychiatry professor, suggesting doctors over-diagnose

Topics: ADHD, Education, Ritalin, Adderall, ,

It’s your worst fears confirmed, American parents. Our kids are on a lot of drugs. But the scary part is that we’re the ones who put them on them.

As stunning new data from the Center for Disease Control this week reveals, 6.4 million children between the ages 4 through 17 has received a diagnosis of ADHD. That’s nearly 11 percent of all school aged children, and one in five boys. A full two-thirds of them are on prescription medication. And if you think that sounds like a lot, just wait. The American Psychiatric Association is currently gearing up to broaden the definition of the condition, which will qualify even more kids for diagnosis. And with it, prepare for considerably more kids on meds. CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden noted this week that “Unfortunately, [prescription] misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate.”

The mystery, for a condition that “has no definitive test,” is whether we are truly in the midst of an epidemic or just an overeager rush to diagnose. And ADHD is far from the only previously unusual condition that’s been exploding on late. Just two weeks ago, the CDC also announced that autism diagnoses are an all-time high, but attributed the spike as “most likely due to better ascertainment.”

You Might Also Like

The glut of diagnoses and subsequent medication raises a whole raft of questions about what’s happening with our children, and how we’re handling it. The New York Times noted this week that, “Some parents are pressuring doctors to help with their children’s troublesome behavior and slipping grades.” As pediatric neurologist Dr. William Graf says this week, “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.” It’s an easy fix-it eagerness that begins in the cradle – a report issued Monday found that when pediatricians diagnose babies with gastroesophageal reflux disease, parents are “likely to want medicine, even if their doctor says it won’t help.” Even if it won’t help. That’s a troubling, reactive response.

The spike in ADHD diagnoses is certainly a boon to the pharmaceutical industry. The sale of stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall is a $9 billion industry. Another beneficiary? Maureen Downey hints at it in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, noting that we are living “in an era where even kindergarten has an academic focus and where children are measured by test scores.” The test-making and test-taking American educational treadmill begins at a time in a child’s life when he – and it’s mostly boys we’re talking about here — is still very much wired for lots of running around and playing. Schools need kids who know how to be quiet and sit still, because that’s the direction schools are going in — a system inherently gamed to favor girls. Parents want kids who perform well. And bingo, the drug companies have a jackpot on their hands, one that will, in some grades, put twice as many boys on prescription medication as girls.

There’s no doubt that medication is a tremendous boon – and in many cases, an absolute lifesaver – for kids and their families who face severe disorders. But there’s a certain irony in the frenzied rush to diagnose so many kids as having a frenzied disorder. And there’s a strong sense that we’re losing touch with our cultural ability to distinguish the normal mayhem of childhood — and in particular boyhood — from genuine neurological problems. As psychiatry professor James Swanson sums it up, it’s not that the condition isn’t real. It’s just that “There’s no way that one in five high-school boys has ADHD.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>