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The Demonizing of ADHD Medications PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Michael Blanford   

My five-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD about a year ago. The diagnosis would certainly come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time around him. He talks without interruption from 7:00 in the morning until he falls asleep at 10:00 p.m.. He runs any child he plays with into the ground as they beg him to slow down. He loves school and does well but spends nearly the entire day standing up as he is unable to stay in a seat for any length of time. He often has no control over his body, which seems to be driven by some outside force. He is outgoing, kind, and likable, but often "wears out his welcome" as his impulsivity and limitless energy exhaust those around him. It’s probably this same ADHD that has given him the adventurous spirit, unflinching enthusiasm for new experiences, and exceptional resourcefulness that are his hallmarks. These traits, combined with his good nature, have allowed him to thrive in most social and educational environments—but that is becoming harder for him.

He has been a great challenge to parent, a major source of stress, and left us exhausted and frustrated. It is only recently though, with the increasing severity of his symptoms, that it has begun to profoundly affect his quality of life. He cannot control his impulses in the very situations he loves most, and worst of all, is beginning to become aware of the effects his hyperactivity are having on others and feeling deep remorse for that.

Thankfully, while ADHD can’t be cured, there are many treatment options that can lead to successful management. We familiarized ourselves with the options, read into the available research (as well as non-medical professionals can) and looked to the expertise of our pediatrician to choose a treatment. We are trying a combination of medication and behavioral modification. While not “magic bullets," there are a number of medication options that have high success rates, limited side-effects, and often significantly improve the lives of those with ADHD.

I am enthusiastic but at the same time bothered by the thought of the many kids (and adults) that won’t have access to the same safe and often effective treatment options. This is because of the ill-informed, irresponsible, and delusional demonization of ADHD medications that is spread by self-proclaimed experts with no medical knowledge, and usually an axe to grind or an alternative to sell. You will find that the anti-ADHD medication crowd runs in the same circles where we find anti-vaccination types. Their claims are anti-scientific, loaded with manipulative language, often ideological, and unsupported by legitimate research. That isn’t stopping them from getting to concerned parents who are trying to navigate the sea of conflicting claims while they try to make the correct decision for their child. As a parent, being told a treatment is dangerous, toxic, ineffective, life-destroying, addiction-causing, untested, or “zombifying,” will make you pause. Hearing it thirty times will cause you to look past the mountains of good science and your better judgement, and to the false promises, unproven claims, and outright frauds that are the bedfellows of those attacking ADHD medication without evidence.

A Google search for ADHD treatments will return many useful resources including leading institutions committed to providing the most reliable information available on the subject like The American Academy of Pediatrics and The Centers For Disease Control.  It will also return 30 sites out of the first 100 that make claims relating to treatments that have no scientific support whatsoever. Many of the sites intentionally use language that shows complete disregard for the truth or meaningful debate.

While the CDC and AAP provide exhaustive evidence-based reviews of treatment options, websites right next to them in the search results will feature absurd fear-inspiring statements like:

"On a physical level, the recommended drugs are toxic, and they have a long list of deleterious effects.1 Regarding Ritalin, the fact is that "methylphenidate looks like an amphetamine (chemically), acts like an amphetamine (effects), and is abused like an amphetamine (recreational use, Emergency Room visits, pharmacy break-ins)."

Pharmacy break-ins as a side effect? Really?

 

"Ritalin produces two especially harmful effects. It deprives a child of the right to develop a character and a way of living with self and world"

 

"The 700 percent rise in Ritalin use is our canary in the mineshaft for the middle class, warning us that we aren't meeting the needs of all our children, not just those with ADD. It's time we rethought our priorities and expectations unless we want a nation of kids running on Ritalin"

"Increasingly over the past ten years or so, millions of parents are nagged by their children's physicians: "If your child had diabetes," the doctors taunt, for example, "you'd give him insulin wouldn't you?"


"98% of people with ADHD will NEVER see significant and lasting changes by following the "conventional" routes of treating ADD and ADHD"

 

"Your doctor just wants to pump him full of drugs. He dismisses diet as a treatment of ADHD when you ask what foods are not good if you have ADHD".

 

"The juggernaut of mental or behavioral labeling and biopsychiatric drugging"


Nothing in these statements is backed up by any credible evidence or useful in making a choice. Most are just acting to advance some anti-mainstream medicine agenda. That doesn’t mean they don’t effect people’s decisions. This is just a tiny sample quickly grabbed from the first few of the many prominent websites spreading this misinformation. They usually go on to promote alternative treatments that are equally inaccurate and often outright scams.

I don’t take any position on whether or not parents choose to medicate their children. My intent is not to promote one treatment over another. I will leave that to the medical community and the findings of science. I am just sickened by those who freely distribute information they are not qualified to give and intentionally do so in a way that manipulates those who listen. It is particularly troubling when they bear no cost for disguising themselves as experts and making it difficult for people to make informed decisions that could have profound impacts on their families.

Michael Blanford is Director of Educational Programs for the James Randi Educational Foundation.

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There's science supporting natural interventions. , Lowly rated comment [Show]
It's Like Wearing Glasses
written by Teacherninja, January 19, 2011
Monkey Man, the science supporting all those other remedies is pretty weak and the effects are small. It's the difference between eating more broccoli to improve your eyesight and just getting glasses. If it were your kid having trouble reading, you'd get the glasses first, then work on the rest. Same thing with ADHD. Get the meds first, then work on other strategies.

As a teacher I can't tell you how sad it is to see a student struggling with this and have parents refusing to even consider medication. It not only affects their schooling (and those of their classmates) but relationships as well.

These medications are well-tested, safe and effective and the happy results are amazingly dramatic. How can they NOT want this?

Thanks,
Jim
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Dispatch from the front lines
written by The Apostate, January 19, 2011
I used to work in a locked psychiatric unit for adolescents, where I encountered severe cases of ADHD (they were not admitted for ADHD, however). PThe general public has no idea how exhasuting ADHD can be for the sufferer and caregivers. These can be intelligent, likable, and interesting kids who are burdened by being in a persistently "on" state and simply unable to turn off until they crashed. The time between being exhausted and falling asleep seems to be the worst for them as they become increasingly irritable and unreasonable. The hospital is set in an affluent yet "hippie" area where people will try supplements, diet changes, behavioral techniques and therapies before resorting to medication. I observed ADHD medication to make a big difference in quality of life. The one proviso I would make is that the medication should be prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist or somebody who specializes in ADHD. The average General Practitioner is not experienced enough to choose and titrate the medication correctly, which may lead to overmedication or unnecessary side-effects.
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written by spider, January 19, 2011
...and those are just the speculations that people are willing to write. What they say out loud makes even less sense. I've long since lost count of the number of times that a person has vocalized an opinion that ADD or ADHD is attributable to not being hit enough as a child.

I am an adult, recently diagnosed with ADD. Medication makes a huge difference in quality of life, don't let anyone tell you differently.
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A direct result of trendy medical excuses
written by fluffy, January 19, 2011
ADHD in the 90s, and Asperger syndrome in the 00s, are both examples of easy and fashionable diagnoses which are valid for a tiny minority of the population who came to identify as having those diagnoses. So of course the treatments are ineffective or even detrimental for the ones who don't actually have them, and thus become demonized.
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Good topic for applying skepticism
written by laursaurus, January 19, 2011
This is the first time I've seen this topic addressed with skepticism. The main objections to ADHD medications are, in fact, logical fallacies. It's true that we can easily identify the same weak arguments when it comes to other topics. But why do we just accept them when discussing this topic? We ought to get past every taboo that crops up in pop culture on all topics.

I agree with the commenter who suggested working with a psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD and/or adolescents (pediatrics). They are familiar with the variety of medications, appropriate dosage, side effects, etc. The issue of a particular med being considered to be "over-prescribed" is a red herring. What matters is what helps yourchild.
I hope things improve for your little guy!
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Great post
written by temporalillusion, January 19, 2011
I felt like I was listening to my own brain instead of reading it, it's so similar to my situation smilies/cheesy.gif

It's so pervasive that it's shocking and dismaying when you first encounter it. Friends of ours tell us to read books on how our son behaves like he does because we're not in a right relationship with God. Our local ADHD parents group had a chiropractor over to tell everyone how Big Pharma just wants to sell drugs and that neck manipulation will promote good neurological heath and "cure" the ADHD. Parents with typical kids think it's bad parenting, or bad influences, or abuse or anything else.

Eventually we learned to tune it all out, because so many of peoples' opinions on this are ideologically based. The same friends who are against medication are also by coincidence against lots of different kinds of science based medicine but buy instantly into magnetic bracelets and hydrogen addons for their cars.

Because all these people have their ideological opinions, but they don't have my kid. They don't live with it. They don't see the struggles and the harshness. Just the other day my kid's cousin was over and a friend of theirs came along.. spent the whole afternoon calling my kid crazy, stupid, etc, because he can't control his impulses like they can. Exactly like you said, in the situations he loves the MOST, he's also at his worst (because of the added stimulation), and that eventually impacts him in a negative way. He WANTS to fit in, to have friends, to have people like playing with him, it's not his fault that learning how to do that is 100x harder for him.

We look at the evidence. Our kid's teachers fill out forms on a periodic basis to track response to changes in medication. We tried 3 other ones at varying dosages before finding one that lets him function somewhat in the day. And we monitor it and reevaluate often.

Now when parents or groups or whatever try to give us their ideologically driven spiel, we just ask if they want to take care of our kid for a day (without his meds! smilies/wink.gif ), I have yet to have anyone take me up on it.
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written by lytrigian, January 19, 2011
Purely on anecdotal accounts and personal experience, I would guess that part of the backlash against ADHD medication has to do with a certain amount of over-prescription, which (as I have heard) can happen as much at the behest of teachers as qualified physicians offering a considered diagnosis. And I'm not sure a general pediatrician should be prescribing them or even necessarily diagnosing the condition: I'd much prefer an experienced psychiatrist.

I've had a diagnosis of ADHD myself, as an adult, for which I was prescribed Adderall. (This *was* by a psychiatrist too.) It made absolutely no difference for me. It was a clear case, I think, of a doctor seeking a solution in pill form for what was really a character flaw on my part. (I tend to procrastinate, and have trouble focusing on uninteresting tasks from which I am very distractable. I also have a diagnosis of clinical depression which is what I was actually seeing the psychiatrist for.) I can't help but think this kind of thing happens at least from time to time.
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Overperscription is an issue.
written by rwpikul, January 19, 2011
I would like to add my voice to those pointing out that the problems people do see are _not_ actually with the drugs but with kids being given the drugs when ADD/ADHD is not the actual problem.

I was almost put on Ritalin as a child. Thankfully my mother, (an RN), considered it to not be a first choice and also noticed a detail about my medical records: The allergy testing I had had did not include milk. When I was tested, sure enough I had a milk allergy[1] and once the milk was out of my diet my hyperactivity went away with it.

If a kid does have ADHD, yes the drugs may be a good idea, however if it's something else that is just superficially similar you can end up 'curing' something the kid doesn't have while ignoring what he does have.


[1] Milk allergies have two common expressions: Either rashes, or a mix of hyperactivity and the aggravation of other allergies. I have the latter and even today I have to ration my milk intake.
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An Agonizing Decision
written by primowalker, January 20, 2011
My son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was three. From the time he was a baby until he was in 2nd grade, he wouldn't fall asleep until well after 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. He was falling asleep in school and was falling behind academically. A psychiatrist who specialized in child pharmacology kept urging us to put him on medication to help him fall asleep. We agonized over the decision for a couple of months, but we were finally convinced to try medication when we realized how unhappy and frustrated our son was because he couldn't stay awake in school. To see him actually fall asleep at 9:00pm the first night we gave him the medication was almost like a miracle. The amazing improvement in his mood and his school work in less that a week after putting him on medication was one of the most heart warming events of my life.

As he grew, other problems presented themselves, some bad enough that we almost had to institutionalize him, but by working closely with the psychiatrist and pediatrician, through some trial and error, the son we almost lost to autism came back to us. The boy who had once been detached and distant was smiling, playing and hugging us constantly. That was the pivotal moment in his young life where, instead of the walls of autism closing in around him, perhaps permanently, he came out into the light of day.

The teenager he is now still faces a constant struggle to get through each day, and we are regularly having to adjust medication as he grows older and his brain changes from that of an child into an adult. Yes, there was fear of the dangers of medication, but with research (of medications, doctors and disorders), persistence and patience, and working closely with his doctors, he is able to live an almost normal life as a teenager.
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written by AnthonyK, January 20, 2011
Interesting post. I have a number of anecdotes (but no hard evidence) about the condition, and its medication. I worked for many years in a special school for emotionally disturbed boys, some of whom were diagnosed with ADHD and were on medication for it.
I noticed, first, that relatively few of the boys (~10% max)were diagnosed/medicated which suggests that, in the UK at least, doctors didn't routinely prescribe drugs for behaviour which was simply oppositional, aggressive, or difficult. It went only with a set of symptoms, such as uncontrolled, inappropriate energy or aggression, short attention spans, and so forth.
The medication did appear to have an effect - we could usually tell when they hadn't taken their meds: sometimes it was painfully obvious. The medication (often after a bit of tweaking) did keep them calmer, and so happier. Certainly, their parents felt that they were necessary - and if it helped them cope, who were we to argue?
The effects of hyperactivity on a child can be very distressing. Why would you stop them taking anything which might help them, and their companions feel happier and more well-balanced?
A possible side effect was that among those who'd been taking it since pre-puberty especially it appeared to stunt their growth a bit. I wonder if this is something which is well-documented.
Again anecdotally, it was said that some father's had retrospectivelly realised that they too had had ADHD. Recognising some of their own symptoms in their sons, they had tried his medication and found it beneficial, much to their satisfaction.
Finally, a little story. One of the boys who was usually, once he'd taken his pills, a charming, funny and intelligent 15-year-old, was a terror without his ritalin. One day he was walking home through the small village where he lived. He was well known as a tearaway, whatever his condition, and had a reputation for it. As he walked past a cottage where a little old lady lived he saw a curtain twitch. He thought to himself: "That's Mrs X, the old cow, and I bet she's spying on me and thinking I'm going to go into her garden and kick over her gnomes, and trash it. How dare she! I'm not like that at all! Well, I'll show her...."
And, outraged by her unjust assumption, he went in through the gate, kicked over her gnomes, and trashed her garden.
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Personal experience
written by KingMerv00, January 20, 2011
I suffer from adult ADD and I do mean suffer. While I'm fortunate in that I don't display hyperactivity, my attention span has affected every aspect of my life. I will stand to walk somewhere and immediately sit back down again because I've forgetten where I was going. I find reading and writing difficult. Simple tasks are done incorrectly. Complex tasks are avoided entirely. Rarely am I "all there" for a conversation. Thinking is like listening to a radio with a demonically possessed tuning knob. I write this not to get sympathy but to emphasize how awful life without treatment is.

Years ago, I was put on methylphenidate (generic Ritalin) and it helped immensely. In the first week and tore through my entire backlog of work and for the first time in my adult life, I had nothing to procrastinate on. It was liberating.

Yes, there were a few minor side effects: I was slightly dehydrated and I felt a mild pleasant "buzz". The downside was pathetically small compared to the benefits. Had it not been for financial difficulties, I'd still be using it.

I am not a doctor so I can't tell you if it will work for you or your child but please don't rule out the idea. Your children may thank you for it someday.
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written by KingMerv00, January 20, 2011
Please note the grammatical errors in my post above. I'll just blame that on my ADD too.
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written by Galadriel, January 20, 2011
You didn't even go into the people who are convinced ADHD was invented (in the 90's, when I'd been suffering from it for a couple of decades already, undiagnosed) to deal with problem children. I've been told,when I explain that I suffer from ADHD, that I'm mistaken and it's not real. Wow, really? What an astounding new thing you've just taught me, person-who-has-no-direct-experience-and-is-just-down-on-the-idea-because-you-think-it's-a-parenting-shortcut. I tell you what, my parents didn't use any "shortcuts," were convinced it WAS all behavioral, and guess what? That doesn't work.

But the world completely changed for me when I got the diagnosis as an adult, and got effective treatment. I could focus for more than 15 minutes at a time. I could complete projects and I could perform more difficult tasks, with the ability to stay focused for much longer. I found whole passages in well-loved books that I didn't even know where THERE, much less that I'd skipped over them when I thought I was reading those pages. I was able to drive without losing concentration, that was a big help. Wow.

Looking back, I don't know how my parents and teachers didn't realize that I had a disorder. Instead, they spent many of my formative years assuring me that if I could just "buckle down" and do my work, I'd perform so much better. Is it any wonder kids with untreated ADHD wind up with depression and self-esteem issues, too? After all, my failure to perform was ALL MY FAULT, you know.
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All too true
written by Dr. Tim, January 22, 2011
ADHD is one of those things that, for some reason, has become targeted by a denial machine. I have heard the denials and even believed them at one time but my own experience and looking at the science has changed my mind.

I am in my 50s and only a few months ago was diagnosed as someone with ADHD. This is the first time that my life path has made any sense and it is finally clear how devastating my symptoms have been on my career and interpersonal relationships.

I could have written the last two paragraphs of Galadriel's posting. I have an IQ of 140+ yet life has been a struggle in ways that others have no trouble with. I have made impulsive decisions and have sabotaged many opportunities because my self esteem took such a beating right from the beginning. Currently, treatment which includes amphetamine is making a big difference and for the first time I am looking forward to the future.

This is a real condition which needs to be treated as soon as possible and as aggressively as necessary. For parents to do otherwise is to hobble their kids and ensure that they will not reach their potential. Understanding the real child and giving him or her the skills to deal with a world that doesn't understand ADHD will make all the difference.

Medication may not work for some and it may take a while to find the right drug at the right dose but it can be a huge help when it's effective.
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Look at this map of ADHD in the USA
written by bigdoggy, January 22, 2011
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

At the 3.40 mark
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Drive by shooting
written by Dr. Tim, January 22, 2011
It's tempting to dismiss the lack of rigour and the brazen attempt to pass off opinion as fact in the film as obvious but I guess it isn't.

Taking up the techniques of the tobacco and global warming deniers, he says that there is still a debate as to its existence among professionals. There isn't.

He says that he is not qualified to pronounce upon the existence of ADHD but the cartooning says otherwise.

What is the comment that it is not an epidemic all about? No one believes that there is one. How would it spread? The current belief is that somewhere around 4-8% of the population is born with ADHD. You can't catch it from bad parents, bad teachers, colleagues, computers or Brits that are too full of themselves. Clearly "no epidemic" is supposed to be read as "no ADHD".

What do the shadings on the map represent? Are there no prescriptions for ADHD treatment written in California? Not likely.

He describes Ritalin and Adderall as dangerous. In fact they have a history going back over fifty years to support their safety.

What's ADHD got to do with tonsils? Medical fashion? The arrogant doctor caricature in front of the Zombie poster is there just to confirm fears and misinformation that viewers may have.

It's been a long time since I saw so much intellectual dishonesty in such a small space. It pisses me off because it is not intended to inform others but to spread his uninformed opinion. Like a drive by shooter with a machine gun, he tries to put a few slugs into his victim and move on before anyone notices.
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