ADHD drugs overprescribed in US

The New Scientist is running a story about drug-based treatment for ADHD:

THE figures are mind-boggling. Nearly 4 million Americans, most of them children and young adults, are being prescribed amphetamine-like stimulants to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Up to a million more may be taking the drugs illegally.

It seems a lot of the problem comes from doctors giving hair-trigger diagnosis – a parent comes in with a tale of boistrous behaviour and the doctor labels it ADHD without even observing the child and using the correct criteria. This may be connected to the fact that it is politically incorrect to suggest that a parent or parents may simply be failing to apply a level of discipline to their child that will prevent these behaviours from occuring. Instead, give them prescription, get them out of the office, and chalk another case up for the statistics people.

Another factor seems to be the rising popularity of Ritalin (a chemical related to amphetamine) as not just a party drug but as a study aid – street mythology paints Ritalin as a memory booster and performance enhancer. Whether or not these claims are true remains to be established. Either way, the have street value, and any drug with street value will become an increasing problem as people obtain prescriptions for financial gain. Factor in the websites where you can purchase the stuff without prescription, and you have an exponential escalation on your hands.

The debate is gathering pace as stories of nasty side effects of Ritalin and other drugs come to light, ranging from hallucinations to heart failures.

This strikes me as an example of a society that increasingly attempts to cure mental problems (software) with physical solutions (hardware). A person is not in harmony with the world around them, so we give them drugs. This is an example of attempting to cure the symptom and not the disease, much in the same way that drugs and brain surgery are used to ‘heal’ schizophrenics and depressives (I have known people who were given drugs for both these conditions, and the changes that occured in them rarely included a complete return to happiness and stability, but often featured a noticable alteration of fundamental personality traits…as the old joke goes, ‘how attached are you to the child you already know, Mrs. X?’). Should we not perhaps be examining the world itself, to see whether or not these ‘diseases’ are in fact a perfectly natural response to an environment that is fundamentally stressful and confusing? They talk of measurable brain-chemical imbalances, but I think there may be a certain confusion between cause and effect here; maybe those chemical imbalances occur because a person is depressed, rather than the person being depressed because they have a chemical imbalance? Unfortunately, this line of inquiry is very unlikely to produce bigger sales of expensive bespoke psychiatric pharmaceuticals, and therefore very unlikely to be pursued in the current climate prevailing in the medical world.

Your comments and opinions on this subject more than welcome – especially from anyone who has used these drugs or is close to someone else who has.

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