May I Have Your Attention Please? Part I

depressed kid[originally published in KCN, March 2003]

Imagine for a moment a medical disorder — a medical disorder primarily found in children.  This medical disorder is unique, however.  Because unlike most disorders that have lab work-ups, special imaging, fancy tests, or good old-fashioned doctor procedures to verify their diagnoses, this one has none.  The only bit of evidence that exists to support it are the various observations and interviews that the doctor (hopefully) conducts with the involved parties.  In essence, it’s a diagnosis that is totally opinion-based.  Now imagine that the number one treatment for this diagnosis, primarily found in children, that lacks any “hard” clinical evidence for its existence, is a drug very similar to cocaine.  Sound ridiculous?  Well, it’s not.  As a matter of fact, it’s happening every day.

The diagnosis currently goes by the name of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  It is characterized by an inability to pay attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.  Some of the most common symptoms are fidgeting, squirming, running and climbing (when they should be sitting), talking incessantly, blurting out statements, being easily distracted or forgetful, losing things, not listening, and failing to pay attention.  It is noted that the disorder is typically worse when prolonged attention is required, such as listening to a teacher, and there is good evidence that it is something that cannot be simply “out grown.”

I mentioned that the disorder is currently  called ADHD.  This is because over the past 100 years it has undergone several name changes — changes that have been necessary as the medical community learns more about what this disorder is, and what it is not.   No doubt, the name will change again sometime in the future.   Interestingly, one of the earlier names was “Minimal Brain Damage.”  The only problem was doctors soon found out that no actual brain damage existed.  Ironically though, the very treatment that is doled out to our children nowadays afflicted with ADHD is a drug that just might very well be “damaging” their brains.

320px-RitalinMost of us are familiar with this drug and easily link it in our minds to ADHD.  It goes by the brand name “Ritalin.”  It is also known generically as methylphenidate.  What most of us probably do not know is that it is classified as a Schedule II Drug of the Controlled Substances Act due to its addictive nature.  It shares this high ranking classification with such esteemed “pharmaceuticals” as cocaine, opium, morphine, and methadone.   Don’t think for a minute though that Ritalin is somehow different because it has a medical purpose and needs a prescription.  According to a Canadian report, Ritalin is responsible for more street crime than any other drug.  Children are literally buying this stuff on the streets.  They are snorting it and injecting it into their veins.

The side effects are not pretty.  Take a look at some that are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:  stunting of growth, depression, insomnia, nervousness, skin rash, anorexia, nausea, dizziness, headaches, abdominal pain, blood pressure and pulse changes, and Tourette’s Syndrome (a permanent and irreversible condition characterized by body ticks, spasms, screaming obscenities, and barking sounds).  A 1986 article in the International Journal of Addictions outlined some of the most severe adverse effects of Ritalin.  The list is long, but some of the ones that caught my attention were hypomania, paranoid delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, muteness, extreme withdrawal, disorganization, agitation, aggressiveness, assaultiveness, anxiety, panic, drug abuse-rebound depression, psychic dependence, increased euphoria, and cocaine-like activity.  We need to remember the scary fact, as an article written by a chiropractor pointed out, that even if we do not observe an outward display of symptoms, the physiological changes that take place in the body to produce a side effect are still occurring to some degree.

And if all of that was not enough, in 1994, U.S. Government researchers reported that Ritalin caused liver cancer in male mice, prompting the U.S. National Toxicology Program to conclude that Ritalin is a “possible human carcinogen.”

Did I mention that the Physician’s Desk Reference states, “Sufficient data on safety and efficacy of long-term use of methylphenidate in children are not yet available…”?

Getting off the drug is no walk in the park either.  Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and include depression, fatigue, paranoia, increased dreaming, irritability, bed-wetting, and suicide.  No doubt about it, Ritalin changes people.  But I guess that’s the point.

Here’s something else to think about.  An article I read talked about how Kelly O’Meara, an investigative reporter for the Washington Times, revealed a very disturbing link between psychotropic drug use (such as Ritalin) and the violence we have witnessed in our schools over the past several years.  In her International Human Rights Award-winning, 12-part investigative series, she uncovered that 7 of the 10 boys who were involved in the recent U.S. high school shootings were under the influence of one or more of the following prescription drugs:  Ritalin, Zoloft, Effexor, Prozac, Celexa, and Luvox at the time of the attacks.

Another article I read spoke of a well-known criminal defense attorney who stated that approximately 60% of the people he defends — from DUI’s to armed robberies — have been on Ritalin at some point in their lives.

It can’t be all bad though.  Apparently, up to 70% of those treated with Ritalin do derive some “benefit.”  But at what cost?  And I’m not referring to the $400 million dollars-plus a year that the maker of Ritalin receives.  I’m talking about our children’s lives.  Their personalities.  Their spirits.  My wife, a former elementary school teacher, remembers with sadness a 4th grade student of hers that had been diagnosed with ADHD.  He was taking Ritalin.  Sure, he paid “attention” — if you call sitting in a silent, withdrawn stupor on a Ritalin high paying attention.  By the way, he eventually developed Tourette’s Syndrome a short two years later.

Why is it that according the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States uses 90% of the world’s supply of Ritalin?!  [Apparently, this disorder has a predilection for certain countries].   One in every 30 Americans between the ages of 5 and 19 years of age are currently taking it.  Sadly, this stat does not enlighten the public that some doctors are putting children as young as 2 on the drug.  In 1998, 500,000 prescriptions were written for preschoolers — something that the package insert itself expressly warns against due to the higher risk of adverse effects.  Are we really in that bad of shape?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t preschoolers, especially boys, a rowdy bunch to begin with?  Or is “rowdiness” now a disease?  And why is it that within the United States, pockets of significant Ritalin use exist?  Georgia happens to be the number one state in consumption.  And it is not unheard of to find a school in which 50% of the students are taking Ritalin, and then find another school just blocks away in which only 5% are on the drug.  It just doesn’t make sense.  If we are not careful, with so many taking the drug, Ritalin will slowly narrow our perception of what is considered “normal” for a child.  At the first hint of hyperactivity, inattention, or impulsiveness, we will be reaching for the “solution in a bottle.”  Maybe by that time,though, it will be available without a prescription.

According to a 1997 article written by David Singer, D.C., “The U.S. Government (through medical grants) gave out close to one hundred million dollars of taxpayer money [in the early 90’s] to help learning disabilities in our children.  During the exact same period the incidence of learning disabilities increased by 500-fold nationwide.”  Other sources noted the significant increase in ADHD diagnoses and attributed it to heightened public awareness and policy changes that forced public schools to identify students with the disorder.  During that time production of Ritalin nearly tripled with more than 2.5 million prescriptions written — something that doctors passed off as “required to meet the demand…”    In a short amount of time, the makers of Ritalin more than doubled their annual income.  Remember, we are talking about a condition that is largely “opinion-based.”

What someone doesn’t want you to know is that there are other treatments available —  other treatments that are effective and will spare your child….  (to be continued next month).

______________

sources used for this article:
refer to part II
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