Friday, January 25, 2008

Please don't poison our children with stimulants

In yesterday’s NHS Doctor Blog, Dr Crippin drew the attention of readers to the fact that we need to stop poisoning our children. He wrote:

“The fashion I hate the most is Big Pharma driving bad psychiatrists and desperate parents (some but not all of whom have appalling parenting skills) to insert mind-altering medication into difficult children.”

I whole-heartedly agree with his sentiments. What I would like to add is that there are other factors driving this phenomenon. A diagnosis made on the basis of answers to questionnaires – one by the parents, and one by the teacher – is most dubious and unscientific. When Ritalin, the drug that was hardly used in the 80s in UK, suddenly made a comeback, the pharmas could not thank their lucky stars enough. The parents and teachers of course welcome the calming effect of the stimulants. Some of them do not have the time or inclination to deal with these kids otherwise. The “not guilty verdict” plays a part too. The kids’ upbringing, the family and school circumstances are not to be blamed. It is some chemicals causing the havoc! On top of that, a label brings about special state benefits. Now, do we still wonder why the disease is so popular?

In my book The Cockroach Catcher, I told the story about this boy with hydrocephalous who was referred to me. He had just started school and his teacher considered him hyperactive and wondered if he had this new disease called ADD/ADHD and should he be on Ritalin. This is what I wrote about the ADHD phenomenon in that chapter:

“A treatment that had a history of over fifty years, starting life under fairly relaxed FDA rules, was approved for a different purpose in 1980 under fairly dubious circumstances, based on minimal research data on some very small samples. The treatment never caught the imagination of the child psychiatrists of the time and was so rarely used that in 1986 the drug was withdrawn from the British market. Then suddenly it took off and if I say anymore about my personal view on how and why it took off, I might be faced with libel action from the main parties concerned.

The drug concerned is still hardly prescribed in France, a country well endowed with child psychiatric services and the French are rather fond of their medicament. There is no market yet in China which has a fifth of the world’s population and presumably also roughly a fifth of the world’s child population. It probably would not take long for China to adopt it though. Contrary to popular belief, admiration for all things American is endemic in China if not epidemic. You may not think so considering the rhetoric of the leaders. On a recent visit, I noticed one of their bottled water advertisements proudly saying “using the latest US reverse osmosis technology”. For now there are countries both in the first world and in the developing world that have not found it necessary to use the drug.

Most research showed that Ritalin would eventually lead to addiction; but there are some who prefer to insist there is no truth in that. The U.S. is the world’s No.1 prescriber of Ritalin and is also the world’s No.1 consumer of Cocaine. The other listed use of Ritalin is for Cocaine withdrawal.

Why then is there such a renewed demand and interest in diagnosis and drug treatment of ADHD.

It is a sad reflection of our times that we demand fast responses. Being patient is no longer seen as a virtue. Have you not noticed that with faster and faster computers we still consider them slow and therefore manufacturers can continue to sell us “faster” ones? TV and computer games have conditioned kids so that they can rarely hold their concentration for more than three seconds. Even the term “three minute culture” is now out of date – no modern day television or film scene must last longer than ten seconds. How many children nowadays can withstand five hours of waiting at the fishing rod without catching anything? How many mothers have to cope with lines like: I am thirsty, mummy, I want my juice now, please. Are they really going to die of dehydration if mother makes them wait a bit?

Concentration like most other things in our modern society is no longer something that is packaged by our Maker. People need to acquire it and one way is by taking a stimulant such as Ritalin.

Ritalin has also become popular because it takes the blame away from those responsible for the child – the parents and often the teachers as well. Some parents who do not wish for their child to go on Ritalin are often put under tremendous pressure by the teachers. Very few have even bothered to find out if there is any non drug related method at all.”

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Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your statements. I live in the States and have taken stimulants, mainly Adderall, numerous times to study for college exams. I quickly became addicted to it and am still fighting my addiction. The thought of giving stimulants to children is appalling to say the least, and just yesterday I tried to convince a co-worker not to put her 6-yr old on Focalin. But I know my attempts at swaying her are futile, as she ignorantly trusts her doctors and the FDA. Oh, I forgot to mention, her 6-yr old gets 30 minutes of recess a day. No wonder she "has ADHD." She is not allowed to burn off her excess energy. The stimulant craze in the U.S. is epidemic and I see no end to it in sight. Sad, sad story.

Am Ang Zhang said...

There is something not right when the US consumed 87% (used to be 90% as Canada now takes some of that share) of total stimulants. Thanks for the comment. Check out other ADHD and Bipolar postings.