I found “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder” by Alan Schwarz, December 14, 2013 on the front page of the New York Times, a courageous article. If only it could have been published years ago. In general it is difficult to get such an article published because drug companies are so powerful, they put a lot of advertising pressure on publications. As a practicing psychiatrist for forty years, I take the condemnation of the use of amphetamines a step further.
There is no place for the use of amphetamines in psychiatry or medicine, never mind for children. Call it by any other name, it is still “speed”. It was discredited in the 1980’s after an earlier period of abuse as an anti-depressant and diet pill. It was mostly used as a street drug. Our in-patient wards were filled with amphetamine psychoses and addiction. It was originally concocted by the Nazis who used it for its soldiers during the Blitzkrieg and for its pilots in the bombing of Britain. It does generate a robotic push for everyone, before its untoward drug effects kick in.
But then a strange thing happened. A new medical-psychiatric genetic brain disease got invented: ADHD. And what was the treatment of choice? You guessed it. Suddenly, speed was safe again, non-addictive, no side effects, and it didn’t generate psychoses anymore. Its sordid history went right back into amnesia. Apparently, the past didn’t happen, so we certainly don’t have to learn from it. There is no credible and definable criteria in the brain for ADHD. Yes there are certain kids with an active temperament. If they do not have the proper boundaries and discipline at home they will spin out of control. These kids do not need speed. They need proper interventions in the family so they will go back into balance and be happy and productive kids. They do not have a disease. They will grow up naturally to be part of the wonderful spectrum of human character. We need to go back to the '60s and '70s and before, when there was no ADHD. There were no kids who conducted themselves this way. It was unheard of. It wasn’t under diagnosed then, it didn’t exist. And we need to nip the next push in the bud, that there is a whole market for amphetamines to treat allegedly undiagnosed ADHD adults.
The only thing I differ with in this article, is that it gives some credibility to the idea that there are a smaller number of ADHD children who apparently should be on amphetamines. Even this is not true. No one should take speed.
Robert A Berezin, MD is the author of “Psychotherapy of Character, the Play of Consciousness in the Theater of the Brain”