Column: Increase in ADHD a symptom of flawed health care system

Leon Eisenberg, known as the “discoverer” or “father” of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, made a startling statement as he lay on his deathbed. To the famous German weekly Der Spiegel, he said ADD/ADHD is, essentially, a fraud. In its current form, he said, it serves primarily to enrich Big Pharma at the expense of the patients, as young as 4 years old and primarily male, who he said are usually misdiagnosed and medicated.

Translated from the original German, the newspaper article reads: “He said that he never would have thought his discovery would someday become so popular. ‘ADHD is a prime example of a fabricated disorder,’ Eisenberg said. ‘The genetic predisposition to ADHD is completely overrated.’ Instead, child psychiatrists should more thoroughly determine the psychosocial reasons that can lead to behavioral problems, Eisenberg said. Are there fights with parents, are there problems in the family? Such questions are important, but they take a lot of time, Eisenberg said, adding with a sigh: ‘Prescribe a pill for it very quickly.’”

Advocates assert that ADD/ADHD is a brain disorder and that affected individuals can be clearly differentiated from unaffected people by brain scans — and there is some research to back this up. However, no such technology is used in the overwhelming majority of cases. Instead, doctors rely on a checklist that uses laughably broad criteria and comes to a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD at an extraordinarily high rate, making one wonder how such an ostensibly serious disorder can be so common.

The “psychosocial reasons” that Eisenberg mentioned also appear to be commonly ignored or missed because of the massive profit motive and intense pressure from parents to get their children on a drug, Ritalin or methylphenidate, that is one of the closest drugs chemically to cocaine.

(In The Encyclopedia of of Addictive Drugs, Richard Lawrence Miller cites studies in which “illicit substance abusers were unable to tell whether they received a dose of cocaine or methylphenidate.”)

The Guardian has reported that many parents are being pressured by schools to zombify their children (usually boys) as young as 4 years old with these drugs, because they’re naturally rowdy, as little kids should be.

The New York Times Editorial Board cites that “Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 15 percent of high-school-age children had been diagnosed with the disorder and that the number of children taking medication for it had soared to 3.5 million, up from 600,000 in 1990. Many of these children, it appears, had been diagnosed by unskilled doctors based on dubious symptoms.”

The pharmaceutical companies and their lackeys, moreover, would have you believe that many unfortunate children are falling through the cracks and going untreated. Could it really be true that more than 15 percent of our children have this brain disorder (often in combination with other overdiagnosed disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, et cetera)?

This is part of a larger problem of overmedication, especially of very young children.

“Today, children 5 years old and younger are the fastest-growing segment of the non-adult population prescribed antidepressants in the U.S.,” fightforkids.com states. “Children as young as 4 have attempted suicide while influenced by such drugs and [5-year-olds] have committed suicide. Between 1995 and 1999, antidepressant use increased 580 [percent] in the under [6 years of age] population and 151 [percent] in the 7-12 age group.”

This is the inevitable result of a for-profit system of health care. Doctors’ judgments are completely compromised by kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies, and the health and lives of children are the collateral damage. There have been, according to The New York Times, television advertisements that shamelessly suggested that Adderall would not only make one’s child smarter but also “more amenable to chores like taking out the garbage.”

It is incorrect and deeply disturbing and wrong to accept that such a large proportion of our children are mentally ill. Clearly, Big Pharma’s profit addiction has led it to abandon any pretense of social responsibility while appealing to, and exacerbating, a horrific form of social control that robs unfortunate children of their childhood and natural personalities.

I am sure that there are a few legitimate cases of ADD/ADHD, and some might even be best treated with Ritalin, Adderall, Dexedrine, Desoxyn (as medical methamphetamine is known) or other hard stimulants. But this is obviously the exception that proves the rule.

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Martin Forstrom is a senior studying sociology and Latin American studies. Follow him on Twitter.


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