JL Note: An extensive article, The Drugging of the American Boy, written by Ryan D’Agostino, appears in the April issue of Esquire magazine and explores the meteoric rise in ADHD diagnoses in American boys, treatment through powerful stimulant drugs, the dangers associated with treatment, and the fact that a portion of boys who are diagnosed and receive drug therapy have been misdiagnosed. According to the article, the issue is multifaceted with physicians feeling pressure to diagnose ADHD and treat boys with prescriptions drugs – by drug makers, educators, and state education departments (who have financial incentives to produce higher test scores). A excerpt from the article follows. To read the entire article, click the source link at the bottom of the page.
By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason–simply for being boys.
If you have a son, you have a one-in-seven chance that he has been diagnosed with ADHD. If you have a son who has been diagnosed, it’s more than likely that he has been prescribed a stimulant–the most famous brand names are Ritalin and Adderall; newer ones include Vyvanse and Concerta–to deal with the symptoms of that psychiatric condition.
The numbers are big. The number of children who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder–overwhelmingly boys–in the United States has climbed at an astonishing rate over a relatively short period of time. The Centers for Disease Control first attempted to tally ADHD cases in 1997 and found that about 3 percent of American schoolchildren had received the diagnosis, a number that seemed roughly in line with past estimates. But after that year, the number of diagnosed cases began to increase by at least 3 percent every year. Then, between 2003 and 2007, cases increased at a rate of 5.5 percent each year. In 2013, the CDC released data revealing that 11 percent of American schoolchildren had been diagnosed with ADHD, which amounts to 6.4 million children between the ages of four and seventeen–a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 42 percent increase since 2003. Boys are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed as girls–15.1 percent to 6.7 percent. By high school, even more boys are diagnosed–nearly one in five.
Overall, of the children in this country who are told they suffer from attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, two thirds are on prescription drugs.
Among those millions of diagnoses, there are false ones. There are high-energy kids–normal boys, most likely–who had the misfortune of seeing a doctor who had scant (if any) training in psychiatric disorders during his long-ago residency but had heard about all these new cases and determined that a hyper kid whose teacher said he has trouble sitting still in class must have ADHD. Among the 6.4 million kids diagnosed, are a significant percentage of boys who are swallowing pills every day for a disorder they don’t have.
“We are pathologizing boyhood,” says Ned Hallo-well, a psychiatrist who has been diagnosed with ADHD himself and has cowritten two books about it, Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction.
“There’s been a general girlification of elementary school, where any kind of disruptive behavior is sinful. What I call the ‘moral diagnosis’ gets made: You’re bad. Now go get a doctor and get on medication so you’ll be good. And that’s a real perversion of what ought to happen. Most boys are naturally more restless than most girls, and I would say that’s good. But schools want these little goody-goodies who sit still and do what they’re told–these robots–and that’s just not who boys are.”
Falsely diagnosing a psychiatric disorder in a boy’s developing brain is a terrifying prospect. You don’t have to be a parent to understand that. And yet it apparently happens all the time. “Kids who don’t meet our criteria for our ADHD research studies have the diagnosis–and are being treated for it,” says Dr. Steven Cuffe, chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Jacksonville and vice-chair of the child and adolescent psychiatry steering committee for the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.
Part of the problem is subjectivity, and the power of a culture that has settled on a drug-based solution. Decades of research have gone into trying to define the disorder in a clinical way, and yet the ultimate diagnosis–Your son has ADHD–is inherently subjective.