On October 9, 2012, The New York Times published an article written by Alan Schwarz titled Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School. The article tells us about Dr. Michael Anderson prescribing Adderall for children, not because he has diagnosed them with ADHD but rather because they are performing poorly in schools.
I first heard about this through The Colbert Report. As usual I laughed through most of Mr. Colbert segment. What was unusual was that even as I laughed, I felt that this wasn't at all funny. Now I think it's criminal. Perhaps at first glance, the thought of drugging our children so they can achieve good grades isn't SO bad, at least it's certainly not a criminal offense. It brings to mind a dear friend who attended high school with me and would regale us with stories about how her mom would give the kids two teaspoons of Benadryl every night so they would sleep soundly without disturbing her. Even in this week's episode of Modern Family, Jay informs a classroom full of new parents that children aren't that hard to raise. "You feed them, change them and give them a shot of whiskey when they're teething." (loosely quoted) Of course all the young parents in the class are horrified by the overt ignorance that you would give a baby alcohol to soothe teething issues.
Yet, here we are, in this sad place where a medical doctor feels he has little choice but to medicate a child for a condition he does not have (in fact, the doctor does not even believe that ADHD is a real condition) simply because the child is doing poorly in school. Reality is a lot like our comedy shows, only very sad.
The world gasps and sits on the edge of it's seat when we find out that a baseball player, a cyclist, a swimmer or a sprinter is taking steroids. We call then cheaters and even have congressional investigations into the alleged use of performing enhancing drugs. Across the globe, doctors are tried and convicted of prescribing drugs to their adult patients. Yet, when a medical doctor prescribes a combination of amphetamines to a child that clearly has no medical condition that warrants taking the drug, we hardly bat an eyelash. Where is the outrage? When are the congressional hearings?
Dr. Anderson believes he is a "social justice thinker." I believe that Dr. Anderson is a criminal. "Above all, I must not play God." Ignoring many facets of the Hippocratic Oath, Dr. Anderson is guilty of playing God. He is delving into a field that is not medical and making an ill fated diagnoses of a condition he admits does not exist. He states, "I don't have a whole lot of choice." Let me point out that he actually does have some choices. He could mentor youths at risk through a Big Brother program, he could prescribe more time in nature for the child, he could prescribe a healthy, balanced diet. He could make sure his patient is getting enough sleep. He could financially sponsor a tutor for a child falling behind. He could spend some time in schools inspiring future generations to a greater cause than just acing the test. He could petition his representatives in congress about the dire needs of schools. He could lead a cause. Perhaps Dr. Anderson does these things already, perhaps he does not. To say however that he does not have a lot of choice is irresponsible at best, criminal it's worst.
"I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure." Here again the doctor fails to live up to his oath. He clearly states that there is no disease, no condition, yet he proclaims a treatment to soothe his social conscience. So instead of preventing he is exposing a child to horrific possible side effects, the exact opposite of prevention.
I cannot tell you how many parents come to me and tell me their children are "hyper" or are ADHD. I am not a medical doctor, so I never second guess a medical diagnosis. I do however always consult with parents over their child's behaviour. A ten year old that is wanting to jump, run and climb trees? Completely normal. A three year old that can't sit still during an hour of circle time? Completely normal. A child that gets bad grades at school because he complains of boredom? Completely normal. The trick (actually not a trick, just a sane response.) is to engage children in ways that ignites their curiosity and creativity. Let the ten year old climb trees. Give him access to the outdoors, fresh air and physical challenges. Give the three year old "wiggle time" every 15 minutes throughout the day. Go to your local library and find books that will engage your child. Look online for new ways to teach the same old boring stuff. Be honest with yourself, you found lots of subjects in school boring too! Engage, Engage, Engage! It's a much better solution than Prescribe, Prescribe, Prescribe!
In part 2 of this series I will address the issues of working parents, single working parents and poverty in regards to medicating for non existent condition.