ADHD: Over-diagnosed & Over-medicated

A series of articles in the New York Times suggest that Americans may be over-medicated when it comes to ADHD.

Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist from New York, argues that the drugging of children in the name of ADHD has become an epidemic, with about 2.8 million children prescribed medication for the condition in 2008. He points out that the list of ADHD symptoms is basically a list of typical childhood behaviors: hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattention. These so-called “symptoms” could be caused by any number of non-medical factors, including bullying, abuse, and stress. A real psychological evaluation would allow for non-pharmaceutical treatment of the children. However, the drug industry has marketed this diagnosis to teachers and parents, as well as the medical community for years – notwithstanding the fact that the drugs suppress children’s capacity for spontaneous behavior and stunt their psychosocial development.

Building on Breggin’s analysis, Edward Hallowell suggests that the traits that are now considered part of the ADHD diagnosis are actually essential to the American character. Many of these behaviors are the same characteristics that inspired the our colonial ancestors to leave their homes for what was then uncharted territory filled with untold dangers. As he points out, these traits are not always negative – which leads one to wonder why we now characterize them as such.

Hallowell also mentions that much of the pioneering research into ADHD was conducted by Americans. This may contribute to increased levels of diagnosis of the disease, even if that research is not tainted by connections to Big Pharma (as much medical research is).

Ethan Watters appears to agree with the idea that what we medicate as ADHD may be a sign of something else. Looking at epidemics of hysteria in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, he suggests that in every era, there are acceptable ways of expressing psychological distress. Children pick up on the acceptable ways to do so, and diagnoses of ADHD ensue.

Watters suggests that cultural behaviors may be at the root of ADHD in children. The rise of anxious parenting in the West, with high expectations, the demise of extended families, and the rise of sugary, fatty diets, could all be some of the real causes of the disease. Another writer, Melana Vickers, suggests that some parents may actually seek this diagnosis for their children in order to give their children academic advantages, for example, in the form of increased time for standardized tests. This kind of behavior may result in children being diagnosed and perhaps even medicated for a condition they do not even have.

Recent studies implicating aluminum adjuvants in cognitive impairment and autism also provide strong evidence that ADD/ADHD may be the result of significant increases in the amount of injected aluminum infants and toddlers receive in the CDC recommended schedule over the past three decades. Other explanations including diet, changes in family structure, increased academic pressure suggested by Watters are untested theories, whereas aluminum adjuvants have been demonstrated to cause neurological damage and cognitive dysfunction since the early 1900’s, and ample scientific literature supports the toxicity of injected aluminum. Why must it be anything but the vaccine when it comes to this epidemic of attention deficit disorder, especially when this disorder is primarily affecting those in highly vaccinated age groups?

At the VaccineXchange, we may disagree over cause and effect, but we agree that children are being overmedicated to minimize symptoms without an adequate understanding of the long term effects of these substances. Too often, children placed on one medication will need other medications to counteract the side effects of that medication, and eventually, a serious health crisis emerges due to overmedication that could have been treated by evaluating and treating the cause of the original symptoms. How often we have seen children who are prescribed medication for ADD/ADHD to subsequently need anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants? These progress to other medications as side effects mount, and all of this medication is difficult to wean from.

It does not seem like the over-medication of American children will stop anytime soon. The pharmaceutical industry has been aggressively pushing the diagnosis for years, and with good reason: this year, one manufacturer reported an increase of 28% in their second quarter net profit that was driven in part by their ADHD drug. It is clear that parents need to begin fighting back, because the drug companies will not stop marketing the disease without a lot of push back.

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