Attention Deficit Hysteria Disorder

The hysteria over ADHD meds continues. I was joking before about stockpiling my meds, but as the drumbeat against ADD/ADHD meds continues, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe it would be a good idea to do just that. Not because I’m worried that they’ll be banned outright, but if the current trend continues, they may be a lot more difficult to get — even for people who benefit from taking them. First, it was the “black label” recommendation from the FDA advisory committee. Now it’s a report, via the Washington Post, suggesting that “millions” are abusing ADHD medications.

More than 7 million Americans are estimated to have misused stimulant drugs meant to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and substantial numbers of teenagers and young adults appear to show signs of addiction, according to a comprehensive national analysis tracking such abuse.

The statistics are striking because many young people recreationally using these drugs are seeking to boost academic and professional performance, doctors say.

Although the drugs may allow people to stay awake longer and finish work faster, scientists who published a new study concluded that about 1.6 million teenagers and young adults had misused these stimulants during a 12-month period and that 75,000 showed signs of addiction.

So, first it was a risk of heart attack that seemed to affect a small percentage of those taking the medicine that catalyzed the “black box” recommendation. Now it’s a risk of abuse by people who aren’t diagnosed with ADD/ADHD that’s ratcheting things up a bit.

I’m not that surprised by the article, honestly. I head the same basic claim last week when I listened to a webcast of the Diane Rheem show that was all about the “black box” warning. In fact, the show even featured Dr. Lawrence Miller, a California pediatrician who was also quoted in the Washington Post article.

Lawrence Diller, a pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., who prescribes the drugs but is worried about their overuse, said that the new study showed the real health concerns are with diversion and abuse, not with rare side effects. “Seventy-five thousand addicts to prescription stimulants is much more troublesome than the 100 to 200 adults who have strokes,” he said. “Houston, we have got a problem because we are just in the middle of this epidemic.”

What doesn’t get mentioned in the article is that Diller is also the author of Running on Ritalin : A Physician Reflects on Children, Society, and Performance in a Pill. But you have to listen to the Rheem show to hear how close this guy comes to some of the “ADHD doesn’t exist” rhetoric. While he’s careful to make statements like “it’s not that these medicines are terribly dangerous or that they don’t have benefits,” and argues for a combination of the lowest effective level of medication along with non-drug interventions, he also makes statements about the use of “punishments” as one of those non-drug interventions. (i.e. Parents just need to beat their supposed ADHD children more often.) He’s also made statements like this:

Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician and author of the book,Running On Ritalin, looks critically at the recent rise in medicating children in the United States. He notes that children who have trouble sitting still and paying attention in school would have been handled differently a hundred years ago. Diller says we have rightly decided not to use corporal punishment, but worries that drugs may have taken its place in keeping kids in line in school. “We’re no longer willing to intimidate children into compliance, but we might just be willing to drug them into it.”

And his remarks about “including fathers” in the process of assessing children for ADD/ADHD sounds reasonable too. Sure, depending on the family configuration, both parents should be involved. But Diller’s argument seems to echo the whole “ADHD medication = feminization of boys” argument when he suggests that getting fathers involved will greatly reduce the number of kids getting these mediations (presumably because of the assumption that fathers will be more likely to apply punishment as a “non-drug intervention).

During the Rheem show, Diller also dismisses the NIMH study I mentioned earlier, which showed that alternative treatments like restrictive diets didn’t have much of an effect on something like 95% of kids with ADHD, and brushed aside the argument that ADHD medications have saved lives in some cases where treatment reduced the risk of substance abuse.

Maybe I’m overreacting to this, but it just seems to me that the one group of people getting pretty much left out or brushed aside in these discussions lately are those who have benefited from these medications. That only makes sense. After all, why spend much time listening to people who claim to have a condition that you’re pretty certain probably doesn’t exist. Sure, they benefited from medication, and maybe they have better lives than they had before medication and treatment, but that’s only because they weren’t willing to try harder and they weren’t punished enough. So, if they end up having a harder time getting medication, that might actually be good for them. Maybe a giant step backwards can also be a giant step forwards.

Maybe I’m skeptical because I’m one of those people who benefited from stimulant medication, after trying just about everything else and finding that they either didn’t work or that they had side effects that I couldn’t live with. I understand that these medicines aren’t necessarily for everyone. Some people can’t tolerate the side effects and/or don’t want to take the medications, and no one should have to take them.

So, if there are alternative treatments or “non-drug interventions” that work for some people, I’m all for them. But why make it harder for people who can and do benefit from these medicines to get them? Because that’s where the current trend seems to be headed.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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8 Responses to Attention Deficit Hysteria Disorder

  1. Well said.  I wrote about similar issues earlier this week in response to some really outrageous posts made by medbloggers last weekend. 

    Stockpiling meds is not a bad idea. 

  2. Tim Who? says:

    I’m in constant amazement on how this country and our government works.

    4 people die using tainted Tylenol and millions of bottles are pulled off the shelf.
    Thousands die in car accidents and we turn a blind eye.

    A few women have trouble with breast implants and they’re pulled from the market.
    Hundred’s of men die using Viagra and its still selling well.

    Some people misuse ADD medication and the sky is falling.
    Millions, MILLIONS misuse alcohol and its happy hour as usual.

    Where have we gone wrong?
    How have we lost it so badly?

  3. Raul says:

    It’s refreshing to find an intelligent blog by a gay male. You have a very unique site here.

  4. I’m the odd man out in this debate. I don’t believe that meds are a permanent or even viable long term solution for AD/HD. I’m fond of the “Pills Don’t Teach Skills” meme. However, I should disclose that I used to take medications (from when I was 6 to 25) but that side-effects to Desoxyn 14 years ago damaged me neurologically – made me worse. Now I’m on disability and still very disappointed with the pharmaceutical industry. At the same time, I don’t like siding with the people who typically cry foul over the medication of children for AD/HD. They tend to be extremists who are pushing their own agenda – usually the ‘ADD doesn’t exist” agenda. I’ve bumped up into that attitude one time too many. It’s terribly ignorant and insensitive.

    I suppose it’s too much to ask for reasonable discourse in today’s political arena, but something should be done about abuses so those who do need and benefit from the medications are not penalized. At the same time, I’d like to see more emphasis on coping strategies from the medical profession instead of simple pill pushing.

    I do take issue with the numbers they are tossing around, but as you probably know 97.3% of all statistics are made up. 🙂

    The Splintered Mind – Overcoming Neurological Disabilities With Lots Of Humor And Attitude

  5. Bill South says:

    Okay, but EVERYBODY benefits from these meds mentally– they make EVERYBODY more productive and sharper and faster.  Just because they benefit you too doesn’t mean you have a disease, it means you’ve conned yourself and/or others into thinking you do so you can get your fix.

  6. Terrance says:

    With all due respect, Bill, screw you. If you’d go back and read the rest of my posts on ADHD and my own experience with it, maybe you’d understand, but it sounds like you’ve pretty much made up your mind already.

    What I know is this. I struggled through school. Through high school, I got by because I could compensate for some of the problems I had due to undiagnosed ADD. When I got to college, I couldn’t compensate anymore. I crashed and burned, had to go part-time, and took longer to graduate. Once I entered the workforce I either got fired from every job I had, asked to leave, or left two steps ahead of firing. Nothing I tried, no methods of organizing or dietary restrictions or getting more exercise worked. I got the same results.

    When I got diagnosed and treated, I was able to function better than I had before. And — here’s the important part — it doesn’t make me function faster or better than other people. It helps me function almost on the same level as other people, after years of wondering what it was everyone else "got" that I didn’t, and why everything I tried to "get it together" fell short.

    It helps me function better than I did before. What’s more, having a degree of focus I didn’t have before means that when I apply all those organization techniques I tried before, then work a lot better because I can apply them more consistently than I ever could before.

    But I’m sure all that matters little to you, Bill. You sound like the kind of guy who would throw a drowning man a rock, after he just got rid of another one, and then when he drowns blame him for not swimming hard enough.

  7. Oh, I love the "everyone benefits" argument.  It just ain’t so.  One of these days if I can really stand the honesty it would take to do it, I’ll blog about what an unmedicated ADHD brain does in an 10-minute time span, which is pretty much everything and nothing at once.

    And Bill, as far as a fix goes, well…

    screw you double.

    You obviously aren’t interested in a dialogue — you’ve already got us tried, convicted and sentenced.

  8. Geez, Bill. Way to love your fellow man.

    What you don’t understand is that our brains ARE different. Whereas Ritalin, for example, is a Federally restricted methamphetamine that cranks normals up, it has the opposite effect on the person with ADHD. There is no fix to satiate. No urge to take meds. No craving. You either can think and function on the meds, or be dysfunctional off of them.

    Of course, parts of our ADHD brains are sped up when on meds, but they are sped up to normal speeds. The downside is that some people, such as myself, are sensitive to meds, especially stimulants, and can have permanent neurological damage with long term usage.

    You’re very ignorant to assume EVERYBODY responds to medications the same way. Talk to any pharmacist and he’ll tell you otherwise. Stop spreading the hate and open your mind a bit, Bill. You might learn something.

    The Splintered Mind – Overcoming Neurological Disabilities With Lots Of Humor And Attitude

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