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Have You Had
Your Ritalin Today?

by Gemma Hughes
art/Eric Spitler

In the past, society believed that the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Today we believe that the government knows what's best for us and that the drug Ritalin (Methylphenidate) is a cure for the brain disorders Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The number of children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD has increased dramatically in the last decade, along with the prescription of Ritalin, the drug of choice supposed to treat these disorders. It is not uncommon to find 30% of a school's students taking Ritalin or other drugs that claim to treat ADHD (Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, N.D., M.S.W., and Robert Ullman, N.D. Ritalin Free Kids).

I first became extremely suspicious of Ritalin and ADHD years ago when, as a tutor and child care giver, I noticed that the children diagnosed with ADHD were not inattentive at all, but were bright and enthusiastic if only given the opportunity to be so. Many of them were starved for attention and blossomed when given the one on one attention they craved. While many of them could not sit for long while doing math homework, for example, they were impossible to distract if given an art assignment or a difficult Lego to build. I noticed in these children the frustration experienced when, on their prescribed drug, usually Ritalin. The drugs caused terrible mood swings and made it difficult for these children to express themselves the way they knew how, creatively. I concluded that these children were creative and highly intelligent. They were not of the regular mold, but this is no reason to drug them into compliance.

The United States school system is designed to create good submissive employees, not great thinkers or artists. When a "difficult" child challenges this goal, drugs are recommended. I cannot advocate this habit. With such a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of ADHD and the prescription of Ritalin in the past ten years, one can't help but wonder if factors other than the mental health of America's children are to blame. We have in fact been victim to a greedy pharmaceutical company. Novartis has fraudulently promoted the diagnosis of ADHD in order to increase the sale of their drug, Ritalin.

According to "A.D.D ­ A Dubious Diagnosis," an investigative report on Ritalin and AD/HD produced by The Merrow Report and aired on PBS in 1995, an estimated 2,000,000 children in America are currently receiving medication as treatment for ADD or ADHD, most of whom receive Ritalin as treatment. Many more have been diagnosed with these disorders and are not taking medication. Both of these numbers are growing.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists the stimulant drug Ritalin (along with Morphine and Barbiturates) as a schedule II Drug, meaning that it has the highest potential for abuse of all legal drugs. Other drugs in this category include cocaine, metamphetamine and methadone. The DEA estimates that pharmaceutical companies earn $450 million a year (maybe more) selling stimulant drugs, according to Lawrence H. Diller, M.D., in his 1998 book Running On Ritalin.

Dr. Peter R. Breggin, psychiatrist and director for the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology in Bethesda, MD, asks "Does a drug become 'safe' simply because it is prescribed by a doctor? Does 'pushing' drugs on children become legitimate simply because it is done by drug manufacturers?" There is growing incidence of Ritalin abuse by school-aged children and college students, who use it as an all-night study aid. During my research, I read of two cases in the U.S. in the last five years in which a child died from snorting the powder of crushed Ritalin pills. A parent testimonial from the Parents Against Ritalin website puts it very well, "We as a nation are telling our children 'DARE' to say NO to drugs, but say 'okay' to Ritalin."

The proliferating diagnosis of ADHD and prescription of Ritalin is resulting in a growing number of critics. Many believe that ADHD isn't even a real disorder and that we are drugging our gifted and brightest, that we are ignoring those children who are signaling the need for a renaissance in our school system and hectic lifestyles that are not designed for the developing minds of our youth.

The diagnosis of ADHD usually begins at a young age in the classroom. Those children who do not do well in school and who display any of a number of criteria are recommended by their teachers for evaluation by a psychiatrist for ADHD. Criteria include: Failure to pay close attention to details; trouble keeping attention on tasks; not listening when being told something; failure to follow through on instructions; disliking or avoiding tasks that involve sustained mental effort (homework, schoolwork); squirming in seat or fidgeting; having trouble quietly playing or engaging in leisure activity; talking excessively; answering questions before they have been completely asked; interrupting ­ in other words, any symptom of boredom and frustration. In the words of pediatric neurologist Fred A. Baughman Jr., M.D., "What business does the U.S. Department of Education have encouraging (at the behest of CHADD-Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) the drugging of normal children who come to them not for psychology and psychiatry but for an education?"

These "symptoms are vague and open to interpretation," according to Diller (Running On Ritalin), "yet they lead to an all-or-nothing diagnosis." With such a large percentage of America's children being diagnosed with ADHD, there is, interestingly, no definitive test for the diagnosis of these disorders anywhere.

A recent study of one thousand U.S. classrooms conducted by John Goodland, Professor of Education at the University of Washington, concluded that school is boring. The study criticized the lack of exciting learning activities. Studies of "ADHD students" suggest that they do their worst in activities that are boring and repetitive, externally controlled, and lack immediate feedback­ in other words, activities of a typical school day. Many people are hands-on learners, have different learning styles, or can be suffering with environmental problems that affect learning. Gifted children become bored in school while waiting for other children to catch up, say James T. Webb and Diane Latimer in their 1993 article "ADHD and Children Who Are Gifted". At Cornell University, researchers found that "hyperactive" children can absorb information from several different sources at the same time and could learn better in environments that provide such stimulation.

According to Dr. Breggin, the "criteria" listed earlier for diagnosing ADHD, can result for any number of reasons "including a spirited creative nature that defies conformity, inconsistent discipline or lack of unconditional love, boring and oversized classrooms, and overstressed teacher, lack of teacher attention to individual educational needs, anxiety due to abuse or neglect at home or elsewhere, conflict and communication problems in family and misguided educational and behavioral expectations for the child." Quoting Richard De Grandpre from his book Ritalin Nation (New York: Norton and Co., 2000), "By interpreting any durable or enduring behavioral traits as the product of some singular inner biological causeSphysicians overlook the possibility of a developmental problem. In doing this, psychiatrists are jettisoning what was once a core tenet of theirs: That family, social, and cultural problems often manifest themselves as psychological ones."

Albert Einstein, Thomas Alva Edison, Louis Pasteur, and Sir Isaac Newton all did terribly in school. Thank goodness we didn't drug them.

But with so many using Ritalin, it must be working. And since it's approved by the FDA and advocated so strongly by the organization CHADD, then it must be safe. Right?>/font>

Okay, first things first, does Ritalin work?

Yes, Ritalin works. It works by suppressing all spontaneous activity and increasing obsessive-compulsive behaviors, thus improving attention and reducing activity. These effects, however, are witnessed in most people who take stimulants regardless of whether they are diagnosed with ADHD or not. This drug actually works by hindering higher brain function.

Many on Ritalin do notice a positive effect on school performance and grades. Twenty years of review studies on the effects of stimulant medication for ADHD, however, all conclude that positive effects of Ritalin are temporary.

The medical community, largely the APA (American Psychiatric Association), has been trying for decades to prove that ADHD is of biological origin, that it is caused by a dysfunction of the brain. They have yet to produce any evidence to support this hypothesis. In fact, the National Institute of Health (NIH) in 1998 and the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2000 confirmed that there is no known biological cause of ADHD and that any brain abnormalities found in these children are most likely caused by prior use of psychiatric medication.

Studies reported in the Journal of Applied Behavior and Analysis (vols. 8 & 15, 1975 and 1982 respectively) have shown that children taking Ritalin exhibit better behavior but at the expense of cognitive abilities. Those children who undergo non-drug "treatment" in which they are given more attention and whose lessons are geared to their own learning styles have an equally positive change in behavior as those on drug therapy but with no negative effects on cognitive abilities.

Okay, second thing, is Ritalin safe?

Well, here are the facts. Decide for yourself. The side effects that can be experienced on Ritalin are, from the PDR (Physician's Drug Reference) Nurses' Drug Handbook 2001 Edition: nervousness; insomnia; headaches; dizziness; drowsiness; chorea - nervous disorder resulting in body and facial tics; depressed mood; psychological dependence; heart palpitations; angina; hyper- or hypo-tension; nausea; anorexia; abdominal pain; weight loss; anxiety; tension; glaucoma ­ just to name a few. Ritalin can also retard growth of all organs of the body, including the brain. No studies exist on the irreversibility of these symptoms.

Of all the studies I have read that had positive results on the use of Ritalin, not one seemed legitimate. Political and economical factors were too prevalent among many studies, some of which were funded by pharmaceutical companies. Other studies claiming to be non-biased were conducted by panels of experts chosen by pro-Ritalin organizations, such as CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). A number of studies were under scrutiny by others in the research and psychiatry field for the possibility of hiding, changing and controlling the data and results of their studies. Consider, also, a good point made by Running On Ritalin,

"The people in medicine's academic circles who define disorders are inevitably influenced by the biases and sociopolitical interests of their time. For example, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) classified homosexuality as a sexual disorder until 1974. The professionals who create or revise DSM categories are recruited by the American Psychiatric Association, and political considerations, as well as professional relationships and rivalries, inevitably enter into the selection process."
Thus, the very book used to define disorders is biased ­ the very people who define the disorders are the ones who will be called upon to treat them.

Numerous cases exist in which parents have been forced by the school and courts to keep their child on Ritalin, being accused of child abuse and denied entry into the classroom if they refuse. A recent article from the Times Union in Albany, New York reported on a couple who are now listed in the state register of alleged child abusers. Their school administrators reported them to Child Protective Services when, due to concern for possible side effects, the parents decided to take their son off Ritalin.

For the people who are being forced to drug their children and for those who think they have a brain disorder, when in fact they are perfectly normal, there is hope! Recent events are coming to their aid and are creating a credible defense for those of us who are anti-Ritalin.

In Colorado, the Board of Education passed a resolution discouraging teachers from recommending medical evaluations for ADHD and treatment with Ritalin. Under scrutiny for the large number of pre-school aged children who are taking Ritalin, the Federal Government is funding a $5 million research project to study children who are taking Ritalin. And four major civil suits have recently been brought against Novartis, the producer of Ritalin.

The suits charge Novartis with the fraudulent promotion and diagnosis of ADD and ADHD in order to increase the market (and thus, the sales) of it's drug Ritalin. From the website, Novartis is charged with:

1. Actively promoting and supporting the concept that a significant percentage of children suffer from a "disease" which required narcotic treatment/therapy;

2. Actively promoting Ritalin as the "drug of choice" to treat children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD:

3. Actively supporting groups such as Defendant CHADD, both financially and with other means, so that such organizations would promote and support (as a supposed neutral party) the ever-increasing implementation of ADD/ADHD diagnoses as well as directly increasing Ritalin sales;

4. Distributing misleading sales and promotional literature to parents, schools and other interested persons in a successful effort to further increase the number of diagnoses and the number of persons prescribed Ritalin.

I am not suggesting that all children diagnosed with ADHD have nothing wrong with them; many medical conditions can cause the symptoms listed above. But be wary and take into consideration the fraudulent actions of those who profit most from the ADHD diagnosis and from Ritalin consumption.

Consider that most people diagnosed with ADHD have nothing wrong with them at all; that, in fact, they have been victims of the fraudulent plans of a greedy pharmaceutical company all along.

Be warned that Ritalin is not the only treatment for ADHD; Dexedrine and other amphetamines can be prescribed. Don't allow physicians and pharmaceutical companies to continue to drug our children. From here on, rule out the possibility of ADHD and consider instead allergies anddietary problems like too much sugar. Consider the lack of adequate attention, boring classes, or that your child's strengths lie in more creative areas.

The past decade has witnessed a proliferation of hate crimes committed by minors. It has also seen a huge increase in the diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and the prescription of psychiatric drugs to treat these disorders. As DeGrandpre points out in the book Ritalin Nation, several of the adolescents responsible for the school shootings of the late 1990's had been prescribed psychiatric drugs, including Ritalin, prior to these incidents. If these drugs were the cure for the so-called disorders these children were suffering from, we need to question what side-effects these same drugs cause that may lead to such violent actions. Perhaps they suffered from no disorder that could be treated with drugs. Perhaps they were a result of society ­ a society that has no time for its young, a society that would rather feed its youth mind-altering psychiatric drugs than look itself in the face and admit that a long needed change is in order.

Maybe it's time to start pointing the each other, at our failing school system, at a medical system that sees no problem with unnecessarily drugging our youth and at ourselves as parents, siblings and neighbors who don't make time for the people who need our time the most. When we allow pharmaceutical companies to feed us lies, without question, about what is best for OUR children, let them profit at OUR expense, then we shed our role as care givers and pass that responsibility to companies like Novartis. We cannot trust the agencies and organizations designed to protect us from harm; we must educate ourselves and always question, because there are other companies ready to take the place of Novartis and profit at our expense, whatever that may be.

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