“We give our children every day, yet we punish adults for taking speed,” stated a concerned parent(Ritalin Zone). A trip to the principal’s office used to mean big trouble. These days, more kids are showing up in the school office just to get their midday dose of Ritalin. Ritalin, the drug used to treat hyperactivity in children, is being seized on by a generation worried about controlling inappropriate behavior. But some doctors think Ritalin is being prescribed to children who are simply having trouble in school.
The numbers suggest they have good reason to worry. The number of prescriptions for Ritalin ncreased four-fold from 1990 to 1995, making the stimulant one of the most prescribed drugs in the country. No one knows exactly what’s behind the surge in Ritalin use, but experts speculate it’s due to everything from increased awareness of attention disorders in schools to teachers and parents becoming less tolerant of unruly behavior. Some local school offices have become virtual noon-time pharmacies.
At one Ottawa-area board of education, the number of medications dispensed to students by office administrators has increased 20 per cent over the past 18 months. A good chunk of those pills are Ritalin. We always worry that we’re a half-step away from giving someone the wrong dosage,” says John Beatty, the board’s superintendent of school operations(Ritalin Boy).
“In certain school systems there’s been a teacher who has seen it work and they’ll start suggesting it as an option for all children who are acting out,” said Linda Budd, a St. Paul, Minn. , psychologist who has written the book Living With the Active/Alert Child. “We’ve got some teachers we call “Ritalin bullies’ – he’s not paying attention to me so he needs Ritalin”(Ritalin Zone). Marcia Ruberg, a school psychologist in Cherry Hill (N. J. ) School District, said the number of children taking Ritalin varies greatly from class to class, depending on “the teacher’s belief system”(Ritalin). At some schools, children as young as seven are asked to take their Ritalin themselves.
The little blue pills have become so common in school yards that some kids are reportedly selling their spare Ritalin to friends, who take it in the hope of getting a buzz. “Every parent wants their child to be at the top of the class,” says Dr. Andre Cote, clinical director of the Children’s Mental Health Treatment Center at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. What we might be seeing is that people are trying to improve their kids’ performance by giving them medication”(Health: Ritalin). Others worry that Ritalin has become an easy answer for busy families trying to cope with a hyperactive or aggressive child on their own.
Dr. Thomas Millar, a retired Vancouver child psychiatrist, believes ADHD is not a disorder, but behavior that discipline and better parenting can fix. “Ritalin may calm the child,” says Millar, “but it does nothing to increase his or her tolerance for life’s demands, and when the Ritalin runs out, the symptoms return”(ADHD: Ritalin). Even proponents of Ritalin fear that normal, rambunctious children may be being labeled with a disease for which there is still no clear test. “Basically, you are taking children who are in conflict with adults and drugging them,” said Dr.
Peter R. Breggin, a Bethesda, Md. , psychiatrist and leading opponent of the drug. “You have a child who is depressed, who can’t concentrate, who is having trouble in school and you’re drugging him instead of saying what can we do to attend to the child’s needs”(Discover Ritalin). Lawrence H Diller MD, agrees with Dr. Breggin by saying, “It is easier to medicate a child than work with a dysfunctional family, decrease the size of a large classroom or increase funding for special education”(Wonder Drug).
Part of the problem is that while the experts stress that any child who may have an attention disorder should be thoroughly assessed to rule out other problems, it can take months, even a year or more, to get a referral to a specialist. “When the mother goes and sees the family physician and says, “The teacher told me little George can’t sit still, he wanders all over the class, he has difficulty concentrating,’ the eneral practitioner may be tempted to say, “Well I know what your problem is, take that pill and come and see me in two weeks,’ “says Dr. Peter Byonsen, a child psychologist(Team Ritalin).
As many as two million children have been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The preferred form of treatment for these alleged disorders is a powerful drug called Ritalin — a Schedule II controlled substance, as are cocaine and methadone. Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder is a baffling brain disorder. Children who have t are hyperactive, have a short attention span and are easily distracted. Most experts believe that ADHD stems from biochemical malfunctions in the brain.
Children with ADHD are usually in constant motion, tapping fingers or toes, wiggling in chairs, jumping up and down during meals, flitting from one activity to another. They often have problems relating to other children. “It really makes their life miserable,” Sarah Newtwater, a clinical psychiatrist, says. “It interferes with all kinds of activities in life – their relationship in the family, the school, their learning ability, their social contact with other ids”(Bad Ritalin). Parents of kids with ADHD have a two to three times greater risk of separating or divorcing than parents of kids with a physical disability or chronic illness.
Though parents may suspect a problem in the pre-school years, it’s often not diagnosed until a child starts school, when they begin failing or getting into trouble. Doctors in every field of study related to ritalin are having trouble deciding on what the increase of ritalin is from. “Some pediatricians are guilty of over-diagnosing,” says Mary Anne Garber, Ph. D. , who co-authored the ook Beyond Ritalin with husband Stephen (an Atlanta psychologist) and Robyn Spizman. “We are not pro or con medication, but we certainly don’t think it should be the first avenue”(Ritalin). Dr.
Normand Carrey, a child psychiatrist the Royal Ottawa Hospital, agreed by saying, “ADHD has become too much of an easy diagnosis”(Ritalin Boy). On the other hand, leading B. C. experts on ADHD say the growing number of children taking Ritalin doesn’t mean the drug is being wrongly prescribed. Rather, more doctors are aware of the disorder and are diagnosing it. “The numbers may be up, but I would say the numbers are ppropriately up, in the vast majority of cases,” said Dr. Derryck Smith, head of psychiatry at B. C. ‘s Children’s Hospital, and the next president of the B. C. Medical Association(Ritalin).
Dr. Craig Fabrikant, chief psychologist at the Institute for Child Development at Hackensack University Medical Center, agreed by saying, “In some cases, the drug is perceived as a panacea, but if it is effectively prescribed and appropriate precautions are taken with accurate diagnosis, the drug is worth its weight in gold”(H+W:Ritalin). Doctors say another part of a big increase in ritalin sales may be that a rowing number of adults are being diagnosed with ADHD. Until recently, doctors believed that children with attention deficit disorders eventually outgrew them once they reached adolescence and adulthood.
Not so. “You have little Jack who took Ritalin for five years who’s now working at Corel and every five minutes he’s fidgety, and he remembers that he used to take Ritalin as a kid and it helped and maybe it can help him now in his career,” Jane Peters, Ph. D. , says(Team Ritalin). Other adults are being diagnosed for the first time as the disorder is detected in their own children. More and more ADD has become a condition that is well known, for which a medical solution really gives instantaneous results,” says Ryan Watson, a child psychologist. Ritalin works and it works fast”(Wonder Drug).
How far should doctors go with these prescriptions? Increasingly doctors are prescribing Ritalin to even pre-schoolers. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Indiana recently studied Ritalin on children aged four to six to determine just how safe and effective it is in the younger population. The preliminary results show that the drug can improve cognitive skills in hildren with ADHD. Two of 30 children studied were pulled out of the study because of side effects, but none of the side effects were serious.
But not every child who has trouble concentrating has ADHD. Nor does he need Ritalin or other stimulants, experts say. “The one question that any good clinician needs to keep in the back of his or her mind is, “Why? ‘ ” says Susan Cummings, a psychologist at the children’s hospital. “If a child walks into the doctor’s office and the parent says, “He’s restless, he can’t concentrate,’ ask why”(Discover Ritalin).
There could be problems in the family, a crisis such as divorce or separation, anxiety of starting a new school or moving to a new home. Even something as simple as poor nutrition can reduce attention span, yet it can easily be overlooked if a doctor does only a cursory examination,” Susan Carney, M. D. , says(Ritalin). Dr. Joel Wallach DVM, MD, author “Rare Earths Forbidden Cures”, adds that there are many things that can be done instead of drugs by saying, “What kind of society are we that approves of methamphetamines, tranquilizers and uppers, but not mineral supplements? “(Ritalin). Sometimes the child may have a learning disability or another type of disease may be mistaken s ADHD.
What is in the future for ritalin? Henry Pisterman, clinical psychologist, says, “Ritalin, like any other drug, can be abused”(Ritalin Zone). And if doctors are leisurely prescribing the pills, there will be problems. Pisterman wonders just how well children on the drugs are being monitored. But while Jerry Kilroy, Ph. D. , worries that Ritalin is being overused, “it worries me just as much that a kid who needs help isn’t getting it”(Ritalin Boy). Hopefully people will educate themselves about a drug that effects his or her body before acting on a whim.