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Back to October Ed Reporter
Education Reporter
NUMBER 213 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS OCTOBER 2003

ADD Drugging Prompts New Laws and Studies 
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Scientific studies continue to pour in questioning the widespread diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) in schoolchildren and use of medication to address the problem, leading to legislative efforts at state and federal levels to protect children and their parents. The number of American children taking psychiatric drugs more than doubled from 1987 to 1996 and continues to increase, according to a study led by Julie Magner Zito published in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Most children's health specialists agree that about 2% of schoolchildren are pervasively overactive or inattentive. But up to 17% are being labeled for ADD, Dr. William B. Carey, director of behavioral pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told a House panel on May 6.

A survey by Dr. Leonard Sax of 400 physicians in the Washington, D.C. area found that more than half of schoolchildren thought to have ADD were first diagnosed by their teachers, not by physicians. Frequently the school then pressured a doctor to rubber-stamp the diagnosis and prescribe medication. His study, which he described at an August conference in Toronto, is expected to be published in a medical journal shortly.

A study led by physiologist Joan Baizer at the University of Buffalo shows that Ritalin may cause long-term changes in the brain, similar to those seen with cocaine and other psychoactive drugs.

On May 28, the House of Representatives passed the Child Medication Safety Act, which is intended to prevent a parent from being coerced into medicating a child so that the child can attend school. The bill, which passed by a vote of 425-1, requires states to enact policies prohibiting the practice as a condition of receiving federal funding for education. Psychiatric organizations are fighting the measure, and its fate in the Senate is unclear.

Four states — Connecticut, Minnesota, Illinois and Virginia - have passed similar laws. Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, Utah and Texas have established commissions or enacted resolutions to encourage schools to use proven methods of addressing behavior problems instead of relying on medication.

The legal reforms are a response to cases like that of Patricia Weathers, who now heads the New York chapter of Parents for Label and Drug Free Education. When her son was having trouble reading, officials at his public school told Weathers to put him on medication. She did so, but negative side effects led her to terminate the treatment. The school then called child welfare officials, who threatened to charge her with medical neglect of her son. She escaped legal action only by obtaining a letter from a psychiatric professional who asserted her right to explore alternative therapies.

President Bush's brother Neil Bush has also publicized the issue of misdiagnosed ADD through his education technology company Ignite! Learning, which he founded in 2001 after his son was wrongly diagnosed.

The federal government is conducting a controversial study of the safety and effectiveness of generic Ritalin in preschoolers, ages 3 to 5. This unusual clinical trial is financed by the National Institute of Mental Health and overseen by the New York State Psychiatric Institute in Manhattan.

To Dr. Peter Breggin, the nation's best-known ADD critic and author of Talking Back to Ritalin, the current federal study marks "a tragedy for America's children." He argues that ADD is a figment of modern psychiatry's imagination. "There is no disease," he told the New York Times (11-17-02). "It's a list of behaviors that annoy adults."

U.S. psychologist Dr. Bob Jacobs told a youth affairs conference in Australia last April that doctors and pharmaceutical com-panies have turned behavioral problems in children into a disorder, and powerful drugs like Ritalin may affect their long-term mental and physical development.

In the past year the Food and Drug Administration has approved two more psychiatric drugs for children — Strattera for ADD and Prozac for depressed children 8 years and older.


 
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