Gretchen L. Watson, Ph.D.

Extraordinary People


Is It Time to Retire ADHD?

American conception of ADHD is proving to be misguided and unhelpful.

Posted Oct 03, 2016

MANY AMERICANS believe that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is overdiagnosed, but few people appreciate the connection between ADHD and our country’s epidemic of opiate and heroin abuse.

That’s because prominent ADHD thought leaders have strategically and relentlessly promoted a false sense of the value and safety of ADHD drug treatment.

The manufacturers of ADHD drugs have financed a network of psychiatrists, psychologists and pediatricians to legitimize ever-expanding rates of ADHD treatment. They have done so by spreading well-rehearsed lies and vengeful attacks against professionals who dare to expose realities that conflict with industry profit motives —motives that contribute billions to drug company coffers each year.

Karsten Moran for The New York Times
Source: Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Anyone who has considered ADHD treatment for his or her child has heard such things as “ADHD drugs are safer than aspirin,” “brain scans reveal anatomical differences between people with and without ADHD” and “the real problem of ADHD is under-diagnosis, not over-diagnosis.” The drug companies want people to believe that anyone who questions the legitimacy of ADHD is a “fringe doctor” or a “social critic” who should be ignored.

The professionals who have been paid to spread such misinformation are worse than snake oil salesmen. Their wares are dangerous, and their actions are counter to the vows they have taken as medical professionals.

As detailed in “Shooting the Messenger: The Case of ADHD,” a 2013 paper I co-authored that was published in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy,” some industry shills have instigated false allegations of scientific misconduct against researchers whose findings stood to expose dangerous fallout of ADHD overdiagnosis.

The unfounded and malicious allegations of these industry-funded thought leaders were taken seriously. Consequently, massive and uniquely informative sets of ADHD-related data collected by psychologists at Stanford University and Eastern Virginia Medical School (and by researchers elsewhere) were suppressed.

US Department of Health and Human Services
Please insert your caption here.
Source: US Department of Health and Human Services

In the ensuing years, millions of American children have been treated for ADHD. They have been growing up and showing up on college campuses with ADHD drugs in hand. Students underestimate the risks associated with abuse of ADHD drugs. They are using and abusing them in record numbers. The drugs are sold, stolen and shared for a host of non-medical reasons. They are used by students who want to lose weight or stay up all night to study. Students often mix them with alcohol and other drugs, with serious and sometimes lethal consequences.

When crushed and snorted, stimulant drugs have the same effect as cocaine, but ADHD pills are cheaper and easier to obtain. Each year, growing numbers of young people are admitted to hospital emergency rooms due to the effects of ADHD drug abuse. For some, ADHD drugs have proven lethal. For others, ADHD drugs are a gateway to the abuse of other addictive medications, including painkillers and opiates.

After decades of searching for biological causes, ADHD remains a social construct, not a biological entity. The question is whether the ADHD construct has outlived its safety and usefulness. Perhaps Americans should consider what the so-called “fringe doctors” and “social critics” have been saying.

This entry was first published (without hyperlinks) as an op-ed in The Virginian-Pilot.