As we hear of more and more drug overdoses, kids in addiction treatment, marijuana psychosis and sudden deaths with designer drugs, we need to ask how did the United States get itself into such a mess? How did we send our youth down this dangerous path?
Between 1979 and 1992 marijuana usage among American teens went down. The Parents Movement and “Just Say No” campaign had an impact. What has gone wrong since that time?
We can look to a few big changes in the 1990s:
1) In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark piece of legislation that encouraged inclusiveness and has made life better for a large number of people with disabilities. CHADD, a group representing people with Attention Deficit Disorder lobbied successfully to be included among those with disabilities. CHADD stands for Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It was founded in 1987 to gain greater respect for the condition and its treatment with Ritalin, the primary drug available at the time.
2) Since California voted in “medical” marijuana in 1996, the marijuana has been getting stronger and youth usage has been expanding. (Since that time D.A.R.E. has been largely taken out of the public schools.)
3) In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relaxed its stance on advertisement of pharmaceutical drugs on TV and the radio, opening the floodgates for a wave of new advertising. The pharmaceutical industry increased its spending on advertising by 330% between 1996 and 2005. Since that time, many more Americans are taking anti-depressants, anxiety drugs, and all sorts of drugs.
Many athletes are using steroids, cheating and getting away with it. Instead of using pharmaceutical drugs primarily to treat life-threatening illnesses, now we are also using them as performance-enhancement tools.
Americans have a love affair with all sorts of medications, necessary or not. We have pain/opiate pill addiction problems because the doctors have over-prescribed these pills. Efforts to get a handle on the problem came too late. Those addicted to opiates who can no longer get the pills are now using heroin, which has become cheaper.
Overusing the ADD Label, Drugs
Will we ever get a handle on our overuse of ADD medications? A New Your Times article from December, 2013, had data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990.
According to many drug prevention workers, a large number of those treated for marijuana addiction, as well as heroin addiction, have ADD.
Were these drug abusers diagnosed as ADD or ADHD as children, or as teenagers? Were they medicated for ADD or ADHD? The National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA) needs to study the correlation between the ADD/ADHD diagnosis and future drug addiction, comparing those who took medication as children with those who were not medicated. At least some studies are looking to the correlation between ADD/ADHD drugs and cocaine addiction.
When we treat ADHD as something other than a normal difference in development and focus, and use medication for it, aren’t we teaching children to use drugs to negotiate challenges in life? Of course, children do better in school on these drugs, but at what cost?
With expansion of text messaging, social media and bad traffic, the distractibility of students and adults will only increase.
Many who take ADD medications, particularly Ritalin and Adderall, freely sell and share with others. Like marijuana, Adderall is known to cause psychotic symptoms, and some of the best and brightest medical students have succumbed to psychosis from Adderall. Some countries have banned Adderall, and perhaps the United States should consider it.
Americans use pharmaceutical drugs at a much higher rate than any other country, including off-label usage. It is estimated that at least 25% of college students use a stimulant to perform better and make their job of being a student easier. Most people need to learn self-control and self-discipline and train themselves. Like all skills, people naturally acquire it at different rates. For our schools to pretend that good concentration is natural is a ruse.
Dr. Hallowell, one of the doctors who wrote Driven to Distraction writes on his blog, “As I see it, ADHD is neither a disorder, nor is there a deficit of attention. I see ADHD as a trait, not a disability. When it is managed properly, it can become a huge asset in one’s life.” Dr. Hallowell was a graduate of Harvard and Tulane Medical School. If ADD was not a handicap him, why should those who read his book look at the ADD traits as something a handicap?
According to Jeffrey Shamow, psychologist who wrote a comment to the New York Times article: “Teaching a child to ignore distractors will arm him with a lifetime skill. Medicating him will not. Fixing the problem with meds assures a lifetime of chemical dependency and a continuing need to purchase medications.”
That Times article said “A.D.H.D. has no definitive test, and its symptoms are open to interpretation.” The American Psychiatric Association has loosened the criteria for the disorder to include common childhood behavior like “makes careless mistakes.”
If it’s the teachers who suggest diagnosis and treatments to parents, perhaps we’re putting way too much on teachers to be accountable for higher test scores and student progress, etc. Certainly students on the enhancement drugs get better grades, but at what cost?
Perhaps 1/3 of the parents of children with ADD/ADHD opt out of medicating their children. These parents are wise.
We don’t wish to critique the parents who make the decision to medicate, as much we critique the overall system. Americans, US Government and educators, please rethink this idea that all children must fit into a neat box and be the same. We’re a heterogeneous culture that looks for one-size-fits-all solutions. We spend more on education per pupil than any nation in the world and don’t rank anywhere near the top. The US will always have geniuses like Mark Zuckerberg and Anne Wojcicki who rise way above the pack. Why should we try to hold normal children to their standards?
Since it is so widespread, at 15% in high school, isn’t it time to take ADHD off the list of disabilities? (Psychologists agree that outside stresses in the adolescents’ lives will present as ADD/ADHD symptoms.) Here’s a link describing some of the history of CHADD. Just because we have allowed drug company money to inform ideology about ADD doesn’t mean we need to be taking the marijuana industry’s money to create a new ideology about marijuana. Two wrongs don’t make a right. A few years ago, a Huffington Post article claimed the marijuana industry is in stiff competition with Viagra. No wonder our children seem doomed!
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