Did you happen to see this article on the front page of the New York Times?  The Selling of ADHD tells the story of the skyrocketing number of children being treated for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder– now 3.5 million.  Is ADHD an epidemic?  Not according to Dr. Keith Connors, who has been a leader in establishing standards for the appropriate diagnosis of this disorder.  According to Dr. Connors, “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”  It is the result of a 20 year unrelenting campaign by pharmaceutical companies to sell more pills.

Here are some interesting facts presented in the New York Times article:

  • Sales of prescription stimulants have more than quintupled since 2002 (now approaching $9 billion).
  • The disorder is now the second most frequent long-term diagnosis made in children, narrowly trailing asthma.
  • The Food and Drug Administration has cited every major A.D.H.D. drug — stimulants like Adderall, Concerta, Focalin and Vyvanse, and nonstimulants like Intuniv and Strattera — for false and misleading advertising since 2000, some multiple times.
  • The pharmaceutical companies are now targeting adults.  Marketing campaigns have recruited celebrities like the Maroon 5 musician Adam Levine.  “It’s Your A.D.H.D. – Own It.”  Nearly 16 million prescriptions for A.D.H.D. medications were written for people ages 20 to 39 in 2012, close to triple the 5.6 million just five years before.
  • This year, Dr. Biederman told the medical newsletter Medscape regarding medication for those with A.D.H.D., “Don’t leave home without it.”  Dr. Biederman has received over $1.6 million in speaking and consulting fees from Big Pharma.
  • The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, went from no ads for A.D.H.D. medications from 1990 to 1993 to about 100 pages per year a decade later. Almost every full-page color ad was for an A.D.H.D. drug.

As the article states, “few dispute that classic A.D.H.D., historically estimated to affect 5 percent of children, is a legitimate disability that impedes success at school, work and personal life. Medication often assuages the severe impulsiveness and inability to concentrate, allowing a person’s underlying drive and intelligence to emerge.”  The article prompted close to 1300 comments, many of them from parents with children whose lives have been transformed with treatment.  But few would dispute that ADHD is being overdiagnosed.  And while it is easy to blame the pharmaceutical companies, this is a complex problem.

Today’s parents of young children must be ready to stand up for their children and navigate a health care system looking for fast and easy solutions to these complex problems.  Parents must be their child’s advocate when the pediatrician wants to prescribe stimulant medication before eliminating any other causes of behavioral symptoms.

Why not begin with some basics:  a healthy diet, time outdoors, and a good night’s sleep.  And then, schedule a comprehensive vision examination.  I have changed many lives by simply prescribing lenses.  I can’t make promises, but I  want to be part of the solution, not the problem.