On Sunday, February 3, the front page of the The New York Times featured some brilliant reporting by Alan Schwarz about the misuse and abuse of the prescription drug Adderall, commonly prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder. Schwartz tells the gripping and tragic story of one young man, Richard Fee, who, as the headline puts it, “drowned in a stream of prescriptions.”
If you haven’t read it, I urge you to online and do so as soon as you can. It’s a salutary tale of medical indifference and–to my eyes anyway–malpractice. And it’s a reminder of our culture’s dependence on pills and quick fixes.
It’s not until the last paragraph that the organization known as CHADD is mentioned, but the very mention of that organization brought back a wave of unpleasant memories. You see, we investigated ADD back in 1995, in a documentary for PBS called “ADD: A Dubious Diagnosis?” (You can watch it here.) In that film we followed the money trail and documented very clearly how the makers of Ritalin (that era’s Adderall) bought off CHADD with covert donations, and how CHADD did all it could to endorse and recommend Ritalin. CHADD even infiltrated the US Department of Education and managed to appear in some government Public Service Announcements, with CHADD leaders posing as ordinary parents.
Schwarz’s final paragraph suggests that CHADD has not changed its stripes. Apparently CHADD is still doing business in the same old way, downplaying the dangers of these powerful prescription medications.
In our film, we documented how CHADD tried to have methylphenidate reclassified to make it easier to get, even thought at the time the USA was consuming nearly all of the world’s supply of the drug. They’re still trying, apparently.
We slowed down the ADD bandwagon for a while, but greed, opportunism, naivete and our eagerness to believe in a quick fix are back in business. The number of kids now being diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder continues to grow, and the drug dealers (legal ones) continue to laugh all the way to the bank.
There’s no doubt that the condition known as ADD or ADHD is real. But I have not a shred of doubt that the current epidemic is man-made.
Every parent or concerned adult ought to ask a few simple questions before medicating (or continuing to medicate) a child.
- Who made the diagnosis?
- Did you get a reliable second or third opinion?
- Does the condition somehow disappear in the summer or over extended breaks from school?
- Is it possible that you are searching for an explanation for your child not being the overachiever that you and/or your spouse may be?
- And if you are involved with CHADD, can you examine the organization’s books to see where its money comes from?
I believe our society suffers from a condition that is more serious than Attention Deficit Disorder. I call it Affection Deficit Disorder, the new ADD. How else can you explain the richest country in the world allowing so many of her children to grow up in poverty? What other explanation is there for our failing to provide universal preschool for three- and four-year olds?