Overmedicating children with ADHD

This subject has always been of interest to me for more reasons than one.  Although this CNN article, “Ritalin debate: Are We Over Medicating” is several years old, I still find it to be extremely relevant and a valid argument today.

There is currently no objective diagnostic tool for the disorder, so the diagnosis often comes down to a judgment call. Last year the American Academy of Pediatrics published guidelines recommending that children suspected of ADHD have at least 2 to 3 visits with a physician, and that the physician solicit additional information from parents and teachers.

But Winkler says, in reality, too often it’s the teacher who’s making the diagnosis.

“In some situations, even parents were told if they didn’t place their child on a psychotropic drug, their child wouldn’t be able to attend school. And I just found this horrendous,” she said.

I’m a firm believer that things such as counseling and behavior modification should be used before we resort to medication. I hate the idea of children being prescribed such medications prior to exhausting other resources. One of the things that irritates me the most is that it is more often than not male children who are being diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. What ever happened to letting boys be boys? Sure, there are some instances where they need to be reigned in and taught how to behave, but a little rambunctiousness never really hurt anyone. Teachers need to realize that not every student can fit into their perfect little angelic mode of behavior. Just because a student is a little more hyper than another or can not fully focus does not mean he or she should be medicated at the first sign of this behavior. Parents need to take an active approach and work with their children to teach them acceptable and unacceptable behavior. I have a 10 year old cousin who was prescribed Ritalin a little over two years ago. He does not need the medication, his parents need to take a more active approach at parenting.  His mom is so flighty she has decided that she will only give him the medication during the school week. He doesn’t get it on the weekends or during school breaks. My opinion is this: either take the kid off the medication completely, or give it to him as prescribed. Don’t pick and choose when he should or shouldn’t have it.
Prior to moving here last summer, I was an assistant manager for Walgreen’s. Having this job meant I also had to be a licenesed pharmacy assistant. I learned a ton at the job. It amazed me to see just how many children are taking medication for ADHD and other behavioral issues. I really wanted to ask the parents if they knew what they were doing to their kids, or whether they had even tried other alternatives before choosing to medicate them. Due to things such as advertisements in print and in the media, many patients are now asking for drugs by name and attempting to self diagnose themselves and their children. It seems inapprorpriate to me for a patient to ask their doctor to be prescribed a certain medication just because they’ve seen it on TV and think it will cure their problems. And by no means is this any different than it is for parents and their children. Contrary to their belief, parents don’t always know best! This is when the physicians need to step up and educate the parents on the side effects medication can give their children. What ever happened to a little unconditional love and attention as an effective parenting tool?

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3 Responses

  1. I read a story recently about the relatively large number of professional baseball players who have been “diagnosed” with ADHD. Because they have this diagnosis, they’re allowed to take drugs — stimulants like Ritalin — that would otherwise be banned…

    Of course if we look at the history of psychiatry, there’s a long history of supposed ailments that seem in retrospect to be lacking much substance. “Hysteria,” for example, in the late 19th century. I wonder if ADHD might eventually fit into that category…

  2. I, too, have been baffled at the recent widespread discoveries (didn’t really seem to be around and as rampant when I was younger…) of behavioral disorders such as ADHD, CD (Conduct Disorder), and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) which my younger sister has been diagnosed with. She, unfortunately, lives with her mom in Vermont and may be the product of some fairly questionable parenting since we don’t have a lot of access to her. ODD is defined at http://www.adhd.com.au/conduct.html :

    Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
    Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) consists of a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behaviour lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following behaviours are present:

    often loses temper

    often argues with adults

    often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules

    often deliberately annoys people

    often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehaviour

    is often touchy or easily annoyed by others

    is often angry and resentful

    is often spiteful or vindictive

    I do appreciate that unbalanced behaviors are being identified in people and that therapy and behavior modification are more widely available for these specific issues. It would appear the danger is as mlmoffitt describes–in singularly and overly medicating the “problem,” in the diagnosing methods, and in the excuse the diagnosis appears to provide for environmental factors such as parenting, abuse, etc.

    Speaking of baseball…my two younger brothers are baseball players. The older of the two is capable of behaving on the extreme side of ODD (although I do not believe he suffers from any disorder!) While seeing a pitching coach and dietician during their spring training one year he told them they should no longer drink soda; he believed that ADHD and similar behaviors were 90% caused by dehydration and diet issues (which the extreme amount of sugar in sodas contributes to). Interesting thought.

  3. @ AAnderson, how old is your sister? All those symptoms could very easily applied to another “disorder” – puberty 🙂

    We all go through this stage in our life (some more than others), and now, somehow, even puberty has been classified as a disease, it seems…

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