Suffer the Children

The case against labeling and medicating children, and effective alternatives for treating them

How to Focus Like a Laser

The latest fad is snorting Adderall

     The latest fad among Ivy League college-bound kids is to snort Adderall, an amphetamine routinely prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. According to an article in the New York Times on June 9, 2012, pressure for grades and competition for admission to Ivy League colleges has encouraged students to abuse stimulant drugs in skyrocketing numbers. It's just part of the "culture" of college-bound private school students in affluent neighborhoods, according to New York psychologist DeAnsin Parker. Sometimes kids take the drug by "snorting" it in powder form, instead of taking a pill. Either way, the drug gives them a "tunnel focus." This enhanced ability to focus enables them to do especially well on tests such as the SAT, required for entrance to elite colleges and univesities.

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     Parents of children with ADHD do not always realize that the stimulants the doctor prescibes for ADHD are Class 2 controlled substances, "the same as cocaine and morphine" according to the Times article. And they rank "among the most addictive substances that have a medical use." Parents and kids alike seem to think that taking an ADHD medication is like popping a vitamin pill. One high school senior who landed in the emergency room after taking 400 milligrams of Adderall, said that other kids in rehab didn't think they were addicts because they didn't think that Adderall was a "real drug" since it is prescribed to kids by doctors.

     As I indicate in the discussion of stimulant medication in my book Suffer the Children, at least one research study--by a professor at the University of California, Berkeley--supports the view that taking stimulants over a long period of time in childhood is correlated with addiction to drugs like cocaine in late adolescence and early adulthood. The Times reporter interviewed an addiction counselor who agrees with this conclusion. She has seen teenagers land in rehab "directly from the stimulants." After taking ADHD medications for years, these kids, in her view, "grew comfortable with prescription drugs in general." Some of them went on to abuse OxyContin.

     To those of us working in the front lines with children and adolescents, the revelations in the Times article do not come as a surprise. I wrote about most of them in Suffer the Children, which was published over a year ago. Parents and children in our society have become comfortable with the diagnosis of ADHD and the drugs prescribed for it. Shockingly, almost 21 million prescriptions are written each year for ADHD, up 26% since 2007. We have watched parents and kids alike become comfortable with the diagnosis of ADHD, as though it were a variety of the common cold. And children pop powerful amphetamine pills as though they were vitamins.

     Lately, however, I have seen some signs of hope, as parents are waking up to what ADHD drugs actually are. One father came into my office loudly asserting that he was not going to give his 10 year-old daughter "speed" for some "fad diagnosis." Her doctor had recently diagnosed her with ADHD on the recommendation of her school and had prescribed Adderall. And a 13 year-old boy who had been similarly diagnosed used the internet to inform himself about the medication his doctor had prescribed for him. "I don't want to become a drug addict," he told me. More articles like the one in the Times are needed to inform parents about the consequences of putting excessive pressure on their kids and giving them powerful psychiatric medications so easily to improve thier focus and their grades. Our country's children deserve better.

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Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., is a family therapist and the author of Suffer the Children: The Case Against Labeling and Medicating and an Effective Alternative.

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