To an increasing degree, people are having prescription drug issues. Nationwide, prescription drug use kills more people than heroin and cocaine combined, so there is a rising need for people outside the medical community to rise up and question the tactics of those within it.
For far too many, M.D. has stopped meaning medical doctor, and has started to stand for “My Dealer.”
So how do we get ahead of it? We focus on its youngest victims. “Victims,” for, unlike adults, children have no power over the drugs they take, so we will focus on children and what they’re being prescribed the most.
For this article, we decided to investigate ADHD.
For decades doctors have been prescribing Ritalin and Adderall for ADHD fully knowing that these drugs are, chemically, almost indistinguishable from methamphetamine.
Obviously, the gloves are off when it comes to the powers that be over-medicating its population, so we feel it is time we start to question everything they tell us, starting with the question that affects the most prescriptions given to children in America: Is ADHD Real?
What is ADHD?
The question seems simple enough, but honestly, it depends on who you ask. In general, American physicians (not all worldwide… but we’ll get to that) agree that ADHD is a disease, possibly biologically based, that causes someone to be easily distracted, have trouble managing their time, sitting still, and focusing, among other symptoms. It is a disease that is more common in males than females, and it can, according to many in the medical community, be devastating to one’s personal, academic, and professional life.
What Causes ADHD?
From our research, it depends, again, on who you ask. A leading publication in the ADHD community, ADDitude magazine, says it is “a brain-based biological disorder.” And who can blame them for thinking this way? Everyone who brings their child to a doctor for an ADHD medication prescription (note: not a diagnosis… this is usually a foregone conclusion by the time the doctor steps in) has heard that the disease is biological. There is nothing the parent could have done differently. It’s just a brain defect. In fact, the same publication asserts that “brain metabolism in children with ADHD is lower in areas of the brain that control attention, social judgment, and movement.” It continues, “Overall brain size is generally 5% smaller in affected children than children without ADHD.”
So who can blame people for thinking ADHD is a biological disease? Obviously this is something the medical community agrees on, and as one contributor to ADDitude put it when instructing people on how to silence the skeptics of ADHD, “Gosh, it must be nice to be smarter than thousands of doctors, scientists, and psychologists.” (Answer: No… while we disagree with them based on evidence brought forth by other equally qualified, equally intelligent doctors, scientists, and psychologists… trust us… none of this is nice… none of this is enjoyable… and we’d much rather live in a world where none of this was necessary.)
So what’s the truth?
The truth is the medical community has no idea what causes ADHD. Don’t believe us? Check out what ADDitude (the same publication that tells us “The debate about attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) is over. O-V-E-R.”) says: “The precise cause is still unknown.” And it’s not that it’s just unknown, the medical community isn’t even certain whether the cause is biological or environmental (or if ADHD exists in the first place, but we’ll get there).
Here’s a shortened list of the possible causes of ADHD according to world-renowned ADHD expert Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Too much time with electronics
Not enough family time
Lack of human connection
Toxic human connections
Lack of oxygen at birth
Heartache of romance (yes… the cause of ADHD may be your ex)
And that’s not an exhaustive list. According to a study in the US Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies, there are even more factors that can influence whether or not a child has ADHD. These include:
Low socio-economic status
Single parent families
Families where both parents work
Behavioral management styles
Nature of classroom tasks
The problem is this: If ADHD is, as many believe, “a brain-based biological disorder,” then how could being poor, or the child of divorced parents, of the types of tasks you’re required to do in school, have any impact on the physical makeup of your brain? The fact is, it couldn’t. Your brain would not be 5% smaller if your parents got divorced or you were bored at school. Your brain metabolism wouldn’t decrease. If you were bored at school, whether that’s because issues at home have made school unimportant to you, or you just found school boring, you’d just get bored. You might not know how to handle that boredom. You might “act out” to get attention from one or both of your divorced parents. You might stop caring about the boring things you’re asked to do in school because your parents work all hours and don’t have the time or energy required to properly help you with schooling.
But you would not get ADHD.
So maybe the debate isn’t O-V-E-R.
Maybe A-D-H-D is B-S.
Results vs Causes of ADHD
If you look at the available research, it’s easy to see that the idea that ADHD even exists is not a foregone conclusion. By and large, it’s not something the medical community is willing to say (and we’ll get to why), but even in their own literature it’s clear no one is really sure what causes ADHD, whether it’s truly genetic or biological in any way, or even whether certain symptoms are the cause or the result of ADHD.
Speaking of causes vs. results, let’s look at television and video games and their effect on a child’s mind.
In a very balanced, objective article in the New York Times Perri Klass, M.D. notes that many of the parents who come to see her about their child’s inattention and/or hyperactivity do so believing their child cannot possibly have ADHD. They believe this because their child can concentrate for long periods of time staring at a television screen or playing video games. While this conclusion, Klass admits, is logical, she argues that “Screen time may also cause ADHD because children who spend more time in front of the screen are more likely to develop ADHD.”
However, she goes on to say, “Researchers don’t know if screen time is a cause or an effect of ADHD.”
Therefore, her previous sentence would have been more accurate like this: “Screen time may also cause ADHD because children who spend more time in front of the screen are more likely to develop ADHD, but that also means it could be an effect, because we’ve seen most kids with ADHD watch a lot of television.
Of course, it would be difficult to determine if excessive video game playing is a cause or effect, in part because it’s difficult to separate the supposed effects of ADHD with the effects of good old-fashioned boredom. As Klass says in the same article, “A child may get used to the fast pace and high levels of alertness needed to do well in a video game and find reality understimulating.” And what do we outside the medical community call it when we find the world understimulating? BOREDOM… not a disease. Video games are more realistic and prolific than ever, and with the rise of affordable virtual reality, that is not likely to change, so be on the lookout for ever-increasing ADHD diagnoses as children are allowed to run amok in virtual reality, a recreational activity even the youngest of parents have no experience handling responsibly.
We hope we’re wrong… but we’re fairly certain this conversation will take place in the near future:
“All my kid does all day is live in a virtual world where he is adored and all of his experiences are carefully catered to as he indulges every fantastical whim he can imagine and now he has no interest in algebra. Don’t let him do it? But then he’ll yell. He probably just has ADHD… like I do.” With kids being raised by a generation raised on ADHD medications, accepting reality and moderating the accessibility of fantasy may be the great challenge of the coming generation, and an inability to moderate (or even recognize) fantasy will lead to boredom, which leads to ADHD medication, which leads to an ever-increasing percentage of children deemed chronically, incurably, ill.
True or False: ADHD Causes Increased Television Watching
Keeping in this vein of questioning everything… let’s look at whether or not it’s even true that kids with ADHD watch more television than kids without it.
In 2007, a study in Media Psychology (which Klass mentions in her article) explored exactly this question. As it turned out, while there were differences in the amount of television watched between children with and without ADHD, the differences had little (if anything) to do with ADHD. The children in this study were more likely to watch more television due to environmental factors rather than the presence or absence of ADHD. Not surprisingly, if a kid has a television in his room, he’ll watch more television than a kid who does not.
The problem is, not knowing whether something is a cause or a result of a mental condition is not uncommon. However, what is uncommon (though not unheard of) is not knowing whether something is a cause or result of a physical condition, which is what is meant by “a brain-based biological disorder.” According to ADHD proponents, ADHD is not only the result of the brain behaving differently for those with ADHD, but is also the result of an on average 5% smaller brain. At the end of the day, the reason we don’t know if excessive television watching, angry outbursts, academic struggles, etc, cause ADHD or are the effects of ADHD, is because we’re not entirely sure ADHD is a disease or a set of disparate symptoms caused either by an entirely different set of issues, like depression or mania, or by the environment, like a television in the bedroom, or the behavioral management styles of parents and teachers.
The Problems with ADHD
The problems with ADHD are present from beginning to (a lack of an) end. We cannot agree on how to diagnose it, yet we diagnose it at higher and higher rates, diagnosing 11% of our youth with a disease we can’t agree exists. And that’s really only half the story. 11% of our kids are taking medication for ADHD, but that doesn’t include kids who aren’t taking medication for it. All told, 19% of high school boys have been diagnosed with ADHD. The problems persist through diagnosis and into treatment. The most common medical treatment for ADHD is a stimulant like Adderall or Ritalin, stimulants which carry their own set of issues. Let’s look at diagnosis and treatment separately.
ADHD Diagnosis: Reliability
As a result of the indefinable nature of ADHD, a reliable diagnosis is difficult to come by. This is for a few reasons.
First, according to an article by Leonard Sax, M.D., PhD and Kathleen J. Kautz, RN, BSN, titled Who First Suggests the Diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder? “Teachers and other school personnel are often the first to suggest the diagnosis of ADHD in children…” and according to their study it is more likely that parents will have heard the diagnosis from other parents, primary care physicians, and other school personnel, before they’ll hear it from the person qualified to give it… a child psychologist or the parents themselves. But so what if teachers are the first to diagnose a child, right? Surely they have the child’s best interests at heart. Ilina Singh, in an article titled ADHD, Culture and Education published in the April, 2008 issue of Early Child Development and Care, answered this contention better than we could.
” … since 1991, ADHD has been an eligible condition under the US
Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which provides children with ADHD the
right to special educational services (Hart et al. 2006). While these resources primarily
benefit children, when they come in the form of special teaching assistants or tutoring
that takes place outside the classroom, the educational services provided by the IDEA
may well benefit the child and an over-taxed teacher.”
To be clear, no one is saying teachers by their nature are more likely to do this than anyone in any other profession. What is being said, however, is that leaving this option open to the less scrupulous people in any profession seems not only unnecessary, but dangerous.
Another reason a reliable diagnosis is difficult to come by is, for a multitude of reasons (some of which we will cover), doctors are over-prescribing medication for ADHD at an alarming rate. Once someone has suggested to the parents of a child that the child might have ADHD, and that the child can receive additional academic help paid for by the school or, by extension, the government, there is a direct incentive for the parent to prepare their child for an ADHD examination by a primary care physician who lacks the resources needed to properly examine the child. To help doctors expedite the examination process, the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, called the DSM (now in its fifth edition), provides the doctor with a checklist of 18 symptoms a child with ADHD might exhibit, including:
Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes…
Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
Often avoids dislikes…
Is often easily distracted
Often unable to play or take part in pleasure activities quietly
Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”
Of course, the problem with this list is it seems to describe almost every child ever, regardless of affliction.
The diagnostic procedure in America is that the doctor (but usually a teacher) checks off the behaviors she sees and the parent or caregiver of the child does the same. In many cases, if just one of these two parties checks off five or more of these symptoms, the child is diagnosed with ADHD.
ADHD Diagnosis: Cultural Differences
The problem with diagnosis is also that a child exhibiting the same symptoms in two countries is more likely to be medicated in the United States than any other country. Let’s take, for instance, the US and the UK. According to a study from the University of Exeter, in the UK, if a child were to see a doctor in the US and a doctor in the UK for an ADHD diagnosis, that child is more than four times as likely to receive that diagnosis from the US doctor than the UK one. According to one study, there was another investigation into how different cultures diagnose ADHD. This investigation took a sample size of 53 English students, 10-11 years old, and discovered that, under the American diagnostic criteria for what ADHD looks like, 5% of those students would have been diagnosed with ADHD. If you took the same kids, exhibiting the same symptoms, and had them see a doctor in the UK, less than 1% of them would have been diagnosed with ADHD.
With that in mind, it is obvious that American youth is diagnosed with ADHD at such drastically higher rates than other countries because the diagnostic procedure is entirely lacking in thoroughness and austerity.
ADHD Treatment: ADHD Medication vs Methamphetamine
No one who has seen a child diagnosed with ADHD can honestly say Ritalin or Adderall has not helped that child concentrate. It is a fact that ADHD medications do exactly that, so why should you care that it’s being over-prescribed? A generation of kids prescribed stimulants simply means a generation of very focused kids, right?
Allow us to introduce you to Dr. Carl Hart, Neuropsychopharmacologist at Columbia University. Here’s some of what he has to say about ADHD medications and their resemblance to something you probably do not want your kids using.
Here are a few quotes from Dr. Hart:
“The effects of methamphetamine and Adderall are indistinguishable from one another.”
“The effects produced by methamphetamine are identical to those produced by d-amphetamine [the primary ingredient in Adderall]”
“Adderall and meth are the same drug.”
It may be a difficult concept to believe, but ADHD medication and meth are, chemically, almost identical. Don’t believe us? Here they are, side-by-side from our infographic on ADHD over-medication:
It may not seem possible, but we are medicating our kids, about 11% of them and rising, with meth. Every. Single. Day.
Of course, we are not saying that meth is a good or bad drug and that everyone should use it. We’re not saying drugs are good or bad at all. Drugs are just substances. Substances we choose or do not choose to use. What we are saying is that meth is prescribed in one form or another by doctors to children every day. And it’s not just us sounding the alarm. According to Dr. Richard Saul, the body develops a tolerance to ADHD medications.
Most importantly, Saul notes there is an agenda for medicating youth with meth and other substances, and it isn’t to create a docile or subordinate population, but something much simpler, money. “I worry that a generation of American won’t be able to concentrate without this medication; Beg Pharma is understandably not as concerned.” And why should they be? Despite the dangers, prescriptions for ADHD medications continue to be filled at ever-increasing rates, with sales topping $9 billion in 2012.
ADHD Treatment: ADHD Medication Addiction
Before we jump to any more conclusions, let’s get to the bottom of whether or not using small doses of methamphetamine or d-amphetamine to treat ADHD plays a role in people making the decision to use greater doses or to begin using meth. Unsurprisingly, researching this seems to be a matter of sorting through agendas as much as data. Take, for instance, what the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has to say about the long-term effects of meth. “Methamphetamine can be prescribed by a doctor to treat hyperactivity disorder … although it is rarely used medically, and only at doses much lower than those typically abused.” Knowing, as we do, that meth and most ADHD medications are chemically almost identical, and that, according to Dr. Hart, “the effects of methamphetamine and Adderall are indistinguishable from one another,” we can throw out the contention that meth is not “rarely used medically.” Meth is used medically every single time a doctor prescribes Adderall and similar drugs.
Therefore, let’s take on the contention that it is prescribed at doses much lower than those typically abused, and that this somehow makes it safe. This seems to make sense, but NIDA also says, “As is the case with many drugs, tolerance to methamphetamine’s pleasurable effects develops when it is taken repeatedly. Abusers often need to take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change how they take it in an effort to get the desired effect.” Basically, the more you take meth, the more you need for it to have an effect, even according to an organization that espouses the benefits of ADHD medication. So it’s no surprise that the amount of ADHD medication increases with age, as people develop a biological tolerance to meth’s effects.
The story is an old one even by NIDA’s admission. Boy takes substance. Boy gets desired effect. Boy takes more and more to keep getting desired effect. Boy overdoses and dies. The only difference in this case is that doctors tell us the first two steps of this tragic process are completely fine. It’s fine for a young person to take an meth. It’s fine if he develops a tolerance to it, we’ll just give him more. At a certain point, though, the doctors say, it’s not fine. At that point, we have an “addict,” and since there is absolutely no way we created that addict by feeding him meth since the age of 5, it must mean people with ADHD are simply more susceptible to addiction. It must be biological. Let’s pay NIDA millions in taxpayer money to study how the biology of children diagnosed with ADHD leads them to be addicted to illegal substances, because again, it certainly has nothing to do with the fact that we’ve been forcing them to pop addictive substances like so many Skittles.
Taking small doses of meth and other substances can lead to taking larger doses of those substances to get the desired effect… something NIDA knows as well as anyone.
Why Do We Keep Prescribing ADHD Medication to Our Kids?
The Fear Epidemic
Ever notice that we hear all the time that America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic? A heroin epidemic? Yet we don’t hear that we’re in the midst of an ADHD epidemic? Why not? If you believe ADHD is a disease, we are definitely in the midst of an epidemic. The aforementioned Ilina Singh rightly points out that “Americans consume 80% of the world’s methylphenidate.” ADHD diagnoses have risen 41% in ten years. If people the medical community truly believed ADHD was “a brain-based biological disorder,” there would be mayhem.
The reason we don’t need anyone to tell us to be afraid of our children using ADHD medication (meth) is because we’ve become terrified of what will happen if our child doesn’t use it. It’s Marketing 101. “Don’t ask yourself if you can afford it. With how great it is, ask yourself if you can afford not to have it.” Fear is the new epidemic, and it leads to more prescriptions of Adderall and Ritalin than “legitimate” ADHD cases ever could.
Consider what William Dodson, a psychiatrist who, conveniently enough, is paid by Shire Richwood, the company that produces Adderall, to “educate other physicians about the drug’s efficacy” had to say to reticent parents who might not want to give their children meth:
“I would ask those people to prepare themselves for that day 15 or 20 years from now when their child comes to them and says the following, ‘Now, let me get this straight. You saw that I was failing in school. You saw that I couldn’t fall asleep at night. You saw that I was having trouble with my interpersonal relationships. You knew it was ADHD. You knew that it had a good safe treatment. And you didn’t even let me try? Explain that to me.'”
The fear that your child will hate you when they become an adult not enough for you? How about the fear that your child will become a social outcast and academic failure if you don’t put them on meth? Here’s what Harold Koplewicz, Vice chairman of psychiatry at New York University, had to say:
“… you start to recognize that without treatment these children lose out on a normal life. They can’t get the joy of getting decent grades. They can’t get the joy of being picked on a team. They get very demoralized.”
Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, as you sit in abject terror at the thought of failing your child, “Where were all the ADHD kids when I was growing up? Maybe this is something that can be taken care of without medication… I mean… those kids wound up fine.” Not so fast! Did they? Not according to Russell Barkley, professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester:
“They were the class clowns. They were the juvenile delinquents. They were the school dropouts. They were the kids who quit school at 14 or 15 because they weren’t doing well.”
Answering the Fear Epidemic
Answering the epidemic is not an easy thing, but let’s take a couple of the above assertions to task. They sound scary, but do they hold water?
Do ADHD Kids Lose Out On A Normal Life?
First, let’s look at Harold Koplewicz’s idea that children with ADHD “lose out on a normal life. They can’t get the joy of getting decent grades. They can’t get the joy of being picked on a team.” We can do this very quickly. Here’s a list of people who had or have ADHD but managed to get good grades, have been picked for a team or two, and have done a little something with their lives.
Now that we realize people with ADHD can do anything regardless of treatment (we can safely assume Einstein was not medicated for ADHD), let’s move on to the next ridiculous
statement, professor Barkley’s assertion that kids with ADHD did exist years ago, it’s just that, ” They were the class clowns. They were the juvenile delinquents. They were the school dropouts. They were the kids who quit school at 14 or 15 because they weren’t doing well.”
Of course, we have no way of quantifying class clowns, but let’s look at juvenile delinquency. By Barkley’s account, kids with ADHD were often juvenile delinquents. Well, since we’ve medicated and “cured” those kids (or at least relieved them of their symptoms) for the past few decades, let’s look at how this has impacted the juvenile arrest rates since 1980.
According to the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, in an article in the September 2011 issue of Patterns & Trends titled Arrest in the United States, 1980-2009, “Between 1980 and 2009 … the juvenile arrest rate increased 33%. Similarly … the increase in the arrest rate for drug sale or manufacture … was 31%.”
So, despite medicating juveniles with ADHD to an ever-increasing extent for the past 30 years, juvenile arrests records have gone up considerably in that time.
What about dropout rates? A little more complicated, but just as illuminating. Dropout rates decreased in the past 30 years for a variety of reasons in all demographics, however, when talking about blacks and Hispanics, the report notes, “… the long-term decline is at least in part related to increased incarceration rates among young black and Hispanic males (disproportionately affecting dropouts, which more than doubled between 1980 and 1999, removing them from the population base (non-institutionalized civilians) used for these estimates.
So, why did the dropout rates go down in the past 30 years for minorities? Because the criteria for “dropout” at the Bureau of Justice Statistics does not include incarcerated juveniles, which, as we just showed, has risen 30% in that time!
The Future: Protecting Our Kids
There is no ADHD epidemic. There is no ADHD.
There’s a fear epidemic. Fear is real. It has consequences as important as those that arise from questioning what other people say is right for your kid.
When it comes down to it, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. We mess up, and will again and again. The only guarantee you can make to your child is that you’ll do your best to face the world with the compassion, strength, and bravery it takes to protect them from those who see them only as a means to an end.
If you’re brave enough to hold a light up to the fear-mongers trying to convince you that meth is what’s best for your kid, they disappear, having been entirely without substance in the first place. And you have to be brave enough, because the truth is, by over-diagnosing a generation of young people… we are creating a generation of young adults who believe they are diseased and broken when they are not. They learn differently, are a challenge in the classroom and at home and find a confined world difficult to work within. Many will be movers and shakers of the world if we let them fall down and get back up, and if we let them learn how to focus on what they love to do. If they find that drive, watch out; we might have the next Einstein, the next John F. Kennedy, the next Sir Richard Branson. We must first let go of this disease mythology and misinformation first if we wish to see the most from these people.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for programs to help people with drug use issues. Saint Jude Retreats exists because we live in an imperfect world, but we are committed to creating a better one. Tomorrow, we don’t want to be receiving calls from children diagnosed with ADHD today.