I wish this post were an April Fools joke.
I have been writing extensively, from a Labeling theory standpoint, about the arbitrary and haphazard spread of psychiatric diagnoses over the past several years. From ADHD to Bi-Polar to Autism, the spread of these “diseases” and “disorders” for which there are no scientific or methodological way to prove, has been alarming. Driving all of it, of course, is Big Pharma and the increasing use of medications as a form of social control.
Which is why today’s NYT report on the explosion of ADHD and the corresponding tidal wave of prescriptions for Adderall and Ritalin is neither surprising nor unexpected.
Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These rates reflect a marked rise over the last decade and could fuel growing concern among many doctors that the A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its medication are overused in American children.
The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 53 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.
“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine.
Really? I’m surprised it isn’t higher than that, frankly. But here’s the bad news: it’s about to get worse.
Even more teenagers are likely to be prescribed medication in the near future because the American Psychiatric Association plans to change the definition of A.D.H.D. to allow more people to receive the diagnosis and treatment. A.D.H.D. is described by most experts as resulting from abnormal chemical levels in the brain that impair a person’s impulse control and attention skills.
Or it’s a social behavior that violates cultural norms (sitting still and being quiet); a condition that exists on paper, which can’t be proven objectively, based on a set of diagnostic criteria so broad it can apply to every man, woman and child in the universe, but particularly those who step outside the behavioral norms of society.
While some doctors and patient advocates have welcomed rising diagnosis rates as evidence that the disorder is being better recognized and accepted, others said the new rates suggest that millions of children may be taking medication merely to calm behavior or to do better in school. Pills that are shared with or sold to classmates — diversion long tolerated in college settings and gaining traction in high-achieving high schools — are particularly dangerous, doctors say, because of their health risks when abused.
Academic steroids, as I dubbed it awhile back. If PED’s are illegal in sports, why is Adderall legal in an academic setting? Cheating is cheating, fundamentally, but if we medicalize the behavior, diagnose it only among white, suburban, middle class kids, and then give it the seal of approval by the psychiatric-industrial complex, well, that’s ok, isn’t it?
Experts cited several factors in the rising rates. Some doctors are hastily viewing any complaints of inattention as full-blown A.D.H.D., they said, while pharmaceutical advertising emphasizes how medication can substantially improve a child’s life. Moreover, they said, some parents are pressuring doctors to help with their children’s troublesome behavior and slipping grades.
“There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal — if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk — that’s pathological, instead of just childhood,” said Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of “How Doctors Think.”
Fifteen percent of school-age boys have received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis, the data showed; the rate for girls was 7 percent. Diagnoses among those of high-school age — 14 to 17 — were particularly high, 10 percent for girls and 19 percent for boys. About one in 10 high-school boys currently takes A.D.H.D. medication, the data showed.
Rates by state are less precise but vary widely. Southern states, like Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee, showed about 23 percent of school-age boys receiving an A.D.H.D. diagnosis. The rates in Colorado and Nevada were less than 10 percent.
And the cocaine (er, prescriptions) being pushed on these kids comes in all kinds of flavors and fun packs, all designed to push the rats through the standardized test maze we’ve created in the educational system. Rote memorization = social control. Critical thinking = subversive.
The medications — primarily Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse — often afford those with severe A.D.H.D. the concentration and impulse control to lead relatively normal lives. Because the pills can vastly improve focus and drive among those with perhaps only traces of the disorder, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis has become a popular shortcut to better grades, some experts said, with many students unaware of or disregarding the medication’s health risks.
“There’s no way that one in five high-school boys has A.D.H.D.,” said James Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Florida International University and one of the primary A.D.H.D. researchers in the last 20 years. “If we start treating children who do not have the disorder with stimulants, a certain percentage are going to have problems that are predictable — some of them are going to end up with abuse and dependence. And with all those pills around, how much of that actually goes to friends? Some studies have said it’s about 30 percent.”
So how’s that War on Drugs going? Remember when drug pushers were creepy looking guys hanging around the school parking lots, and not psychiatrists in lab coats? I guess the simple rule is, drugs that get in the way of a smoothly functioning capitalist economy = illegal (pot, ecstasy, hallucinogens); drugs that aid a smoothly functioning capitalist society = legal (Adderall, Ritalin, et al).
And don’t think for a minute that Big Pharma, which makes the Medellin Cartel look amateurish in comparison, isn’t laughing all the way to the bank.
Sales of stimulants to treat A.D.H.D. have more than doubled to $9 billion in 2012 from $4 billion in 2007, according to the health care information company IMS Health.
Social control, big corporate profits, and a lobotomized generation of kids drooling in the corner on its meds.
I can only quote John Mellencamp: “Ain’t that America, something to see baby? Ain’t that America, the land of the free.”
Cross posted to: The Power Elite