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Are We Creating a Generation of Addicts With ADHD Medication?

During his freshman year, Jack’s grades started slipping. He found it hard to keep up. He knew several classmates who used uppers for extra boosts when they needed them. In hopes of finding an endless supply of energy (and improving his grades), Jack decided to fake the symptoms of ADHD so he could get an Adderall prescription. It worked.

Since the symptom criteria is fairly ambiguous—and has become even less strict in recent years—this wasn’t difficult to do. His shrink wrote the script… and Jack started a pattern of drug abuse that shaped the rest of his life.

  • ADHD is easy to fake. A 2010 study revealed that one in four diagnoses of adult ADHD involved faked symptoms—and this was before the diagnostic criteria were relaxed.

Wyatt was one of the youngest kindergarteners in his class. He was struggling with reading and was often distracted by the many other fun opportunities around the room. His teacher spoke with his parents, who consulted with a psychiatrist who, in turn, diagnosed Wyatt with ADHD. Within a month, he was taking highly potent drugs to control his symptoms.

Wyatt’s grandmother pointed out that he was barely five years old and that being curious, active and distractible used to be considered normal—even healthy—for that age. Wyatt’s parents dismissed her input, assuming the doctor knew best—the same doctor whose practice is closely tied with the pharmaceutical company.

  • Research shows children in kindergarten are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older classmates. This strengthens the argument that ADHD diagnoses are often based on non-pathological, normal human imperfections. Being forgetful or distracted happens to everyone, especially when you’re barely past the diaper stage. 

Aiden’s parents were frazzled. At nine, Aiden behaved more like a three-year-old. He was often hyper, seemed to get into everything and never wanted to sit still. They got tired of finding things to entertain him and were weary of fighting with him to pay attention. They knew many children today receive medication to help with these issues, so they took Aiden to a doctor.

After a ten-minute discussion with his parents—and an even briefer exam of the child—Aiden’s doctor diagnosed him with ADHD and sent his parents home with a prescription for Ritalin. Now Aiden is docile, quiet and compliant. He doesn’t eat much on the days he takes his medication, and he has a lot less personality now, but his parents don’t have to work as hard to manage him.

  • In some areas of the U.S., roughly half of boys in grades three to five are on ADHD medication. Several experts in child care and drug and alcohol addiction point out that pharmaceutical companies take advantage of desperate parents who are simply looking for ways to help their children. And though the same group of experts admits many of these children have legitimate problems, in their collective opinion, those issues rarely warrant drugs like Ritalin, Adderall and Vyvanse.

Over-Diagnosed and Over-Medicated

In 2011, the CDC reported 11% of our nation’s children were diagnosed with ADHD; two-thirds of those kids were prescribed medication.

Alan Schwarz, author of ADHD Nation: Children, Doctors, Big Pharma, and the Making of an American Epidemic, reports the numbers are now up to one in seven American children diagnosed with ADHD.

Dr. C. Keith Conners, “father of ADHD” and the man who discovered Ritalin’s effect on children, believes that only 2 to 3% of these kids actually qualify for a diagnosis. So many young lives are being shaped by powerful drugs that many experts say are unnecessary. These potent pharmaceuticals—Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse—all have the potential for addiction and abuse.

We are putting highly potent prescription narcotics in the hands and minds of thousands of young children. Can we expect anything but disaster?

Risks vs. Results

With the trending increase in prescriptions, emergency room visits due to ADHD medications have soared 400% in the past seven years. A study of FDA data discovered 19,000 complications directly related to ADHD medications. And while we’re mostly still in the dark regarding long-term effects, the FDA data does currently list two long-term concerns: fatal heart attacks and kidney failure.

Is the next generation becoming dependent on medications they don’t need? Possibly. Will they all become addicts? Probably not. But when children grow up taking narcotics every day, they easily become desensitized to the dangers of drug use. When half the kids in their class are on some form of stimulant already, what’s the big deal if they try some other meds too? And if it’s okay to take narcotics to help them focus, why not try something else to make them feel happy, or relaxed or outgoing?

Simply put; when drugs are the first solution society turns to for managing children’s behavior, can we expect anything less from the children? When the doctor’s knee-jerk reaction is to medicate, children get the impression that self-medication is no big deal.

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