Pay Attention

Our distracted age

The ADHD Tax

Distraction takes a heavy toll on individuals -- and taxpayers

I didn’t get diagnosed with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity disorder until I was 48 years old – and today I often find myself ruminating over all the money I might have saved, if I’d only have been more focused.

Over the decades, I figure I've lost enough jewelry to fund a short vacation in Australia. My car insurance payments are, alas, rather above average – while I’m paying even more for those of our teenage son. And then there's the fortunes I've spent on various therapies, which should have been compounding interest by now....

If ADHD has been costly for me, however – and, oh, boy, has it ever – it’s also doing a number on U.S. taxpayers in general.

By conservative estimates,  approximately 5.4 million American children and 9.6 million adults have been diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms of which include distraction, forgetfulness, impulsivity, and disorganization. 

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One study  calculated the average expense in extra health costs alone, including government subsidies, as $42.5 billion a year.  

This came to mind after I recently came across the latest figures for what our government spends on various other health issues, per a report by the National Institutes of Health.

Apparently, total government spending per year on research pertaining to ADHD amounts to $60 million -- a drop in the bucket compared to what we spend on cancer -- $5.6 billion  -- or heart disease -- $1.2 billion.

Granted, the National Institutes of Health estimates we spend $77.4 billion to treat cancer -- nearly double the calculated expense for ADHD. Yet there's still a tremendous gap between expenses and research investment, meaning any treatment breakthroughs for ADHD will be that much farther off.

I wonder if there's a good reason why ADHD isn't being taken more seriously. After all, it's usually a lifelong disorder that can lead to all sorts of misery, with plenty of research demonstrating a high correlation with anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, divorce, car crashes, and unemployment. The inescapable question is whether our forces, by nature, are simply too disorganized to mount campaigns equal to those of the American Cancer Society.

Maybe it's time we outsourced the lobbying...  


Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize winning author.


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