There’s a new fix-it for the perpetual problem of low-income children’s poor performance in school: giving them Adderall, regardless of whether or not they’ve been diagnosed with A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. Apparently some doctors, including Dr. Micheal Anderson of Georgia, are prescribing Adderall and other stimulants to elementary and middle school students—in order to boost academic performance in struggling low-income schools.
A.D.H.D, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is characterized by severe inattention and impulsivity, has been an increasingly popular diagnoses in children over the last 20-25 years. Still, according to the CDC, only about 9.5 percent of children ages 4 to 17 were judged to have it in 2007 (about 5.4 million children).
Dr. Micheal Anderson, quoted in the NYT article, calls himself a “social justice thinker.” The idea behind prescribing the drugs is that poor children aren’t able to access the same resources as students at higher socioeconomic levels, things like therapy, tutoring, and prep classes. So, in his, view, “medication becomes the most reliable and pragmatic way to redirect the student toward success.”
I’m confused. This doctor, who’s prescribing all this Adderall, also says he thinks A.D..D and A.D.H.D. are “made up,” yet he keeps prescribing medication that’s created to treat those conditions? That makes zero sense to me. Dr. Anderson, who is a pediatrician for many low-income families in Cherokee County, Georgia, says:
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice. We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”
It’s not clear how wide this trend of medication-as-scholastic-insurance really is, but Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist who works mainly with low-income children says it’s becoming common:
“We are seeing this more and more. We are using a chemical straitjacket instead of doing things that are just as important to also do, sometimes more.”
While I’m not of the opinion of attention-deficit disorders are made up, I do think our country as a whole is entirely overmedicated. And it seems both medically irresponsible and borderline negligent to be prescribing medication to people who don’t even need it. Some of the children in the article (Alexis, Ethan, Quintn and Perry Rocafort) are each on several medications each, including a sleeping medication necessary to counteract the effects of their stimulants. They aren’t even able to experience regular sleep cycles on their own!
And let’s not forget the reported side effects of these drugs, which can include high blood pressure, growth suppression and pyschotic episodes. In fact, Quintn, a ten-year-old, began hearing voices due to his Adderall. He was suicidal and had to spend a week in a local psychiatric hospital. But rather than being taken off stimulants altogether, he was just prescribed another one, Risperdal.
Quintn’s two siblings, Alexis and Ethan, are also on Adderall, although unlike Quintn, they weren’t actually ever diagnosed with any attention deficit disorders. Alexis was reportedly, in her father’s words, “a little blah.” Their father justified his use of the drugs with his children, saying: “If they’re feeling positive, happy, socializing more, and it’s helping them, why wouldn’t you? Why not?”
It’s interesting to note that Medicaid will cover these medications for low-income families. But obviously, what they need is a better school system and more reliable access to behavior-based therapies that can help the struggling students. I’m not saying that the use of stimulants to treat A.D.D. and A.D.H.D is wrong, but I think they should be used only when recognized as medically appropriate. The methods of diagnosing a person with these disorders are apparently very disputed, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw medication at every child and call it social justice.
This is a society-wide problem that shouldn’t be solved by giving individual children prescription medication. This practice will only worsen the problem for everyone: for schools, for parents, and for children, who will eventually grow into adults who have never known what it’s like to be unmedicated.