Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Thinking about Ritalin and the Word of Wisdom

At the risk of offending many people, I'd like to express my concerns about the role of public schools in promoting widespread use of an addictive mind-altering drug among our children. While there may be cases where Ritalin is needed and where it has helped (I know some people who are convinced that it helped them), there are some who provide convincing evidence of over-prescription of this dangerous drug. See, for example, the work of Dr. Peter Breggin at Breggin.com.

It seems that some teachers and administrators in public schools frequently tell parents that they need to get their child to a doctor to get Ritalin because the child exhibits problematic symptoms -- things like talking in class, wiggling, having lots of energy, not paying attention, and showing other tell-tale indications of, well, being young (or having a boring class). I'm familiar with one recent example where a healthy, intelligent child I know seems to have anything but a mental disorder, yet Ritalin is what the teacher says is needed. By doping the kids up on Ritalin, they apparently cause less trouble (as if sitting quietly were the goal of our educational system), but parents are often not told of the side effects and risks.

According to testimony from Dr. Breggin, the warning label on the drug as provided by the manufacturer fails to provide critical information that would be required of other medications, such as these facts:
  • Ritalin is not a "mild" stimulant as the label claims, but one of the most powerful and addictive of stimulants, comparable to methamphetamine;
  • Ritalin is classified as a Schedule II drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which is the highest schedule for drugs having a medical use (Schedule I means there is no acceptable medical use, while less dangerous drugs fall into Schedules III, IV, or V), putting it among the most dangerous and abuse-prone drugs that can be legally prescribed.
  • Ritalin has the potential to be addictive and has a severe potential for abuse - in fact, it is frequently stolen and sold illegally to drug abusers.
  • Withdrawal from Ritalin can have dangerous side effects (warning: if your kids are on Ritalin, please see a doctor before taking them off - there can be dangerous side effects to withdrawal).
Tear down the "Drug Free Zone" signs that mask the reality in so many schools: they are zones where powerful drugs are routinely pushed upon families, including many LDS kids. Most LDS parents would never think of getting our kids started on an addictive drug like nicotine or amphetamine unless there truly was no other way to deal with a dangerous medical problem. Many LDS parents urge their children to avoid Diet Coke because it contains the stimulant caffeine, but Ritalin is a far more dangerous stimulant than caffeine. If a teacher told you that your kids needed a shot of java each morning to do better in school, would you do it?

The fact that millions of kids are urged to get on Ritalin for mild behavioral problems may be one of the great tragedies of our day - and a potential violation of the Word of Wisdom that faithful LDS parents haven't considered.

I am not a medical doctor and my personal opinions and those of Dr. Breggin may be wildly incorrect, so please check things out for yourself and consult your doctor before doing anything. Don't accept viewpoints just because some fool has expressed them on a blog! But when a teacher tells you that your kid needs Ritalin, for heavens' sake, understand that the teacher has no right to make such a diagnosis and may not understand just what a dangerous course they are advising.

"Drug Free Zone" indeed!

Other resources that may be of value:

20 comments:

J. Stapley said...

Here is a review of a 2000 article that states that about 10% of kids are on stimulants and over 50% of them don't even have ADHD:

http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20000729/fob2.asp

Granted, you do study alot better on Ritalin (Hence the illegal market), but you are correct in questioning its widespread use.

Anonymous said...

One of the many factors that led me to choose homeschooling for my son. He shows a lot of the symptoms of ADHD... when he is sitting in a classroom full of kids who are acting the same way. At home, one-on-one, he sits quietly and pays very good attention!!!

I'm worried about what these kids are going to be like when they grow into adults, after they've been on stimulant medication for years while growing up...

Tanya S. said...

as if sitting quietly were the goal of our educational system

Actually, that is pretty much the goal. Sit quietly, do what you are told, be a good little citizen. Actually providing an academic education is secondary. Which is why, if I ever have children, I will do everything I can to keep them out of public schools. I am definitely a fan of homeschooling, but there are other options I'm open to.

Walter said...

Within the last two years, an article in JAMA was published on the alarming rise in the rate of use of psychotropic drugs (such as Ritalin). The authors found a case where a 7 month old (not a typo!) was "diagnosed" as having ADHD and was medicated.

The use of these drugs is a win-win for the pharmaceutical industry and the school system.

It is also worth noting how subjective the diagnosis is for ADHD.

Mike Parker said...

While it is possible that that doctors are overprescribing Ritalin, I find it hard to believe that there is a massive movement among educators to recommend it to parents. Every interaction I have had with a teacher or school administrator has been one of strict neutrality on the subject -- don't condemn parents who choose to medicate their children, and don't recommend medication to those who don't. Teachers are not trained medical professionals, and most of them know it.

My 8-year-old son has ADHD, and we have been treating him with Concerta (a time-release version of Ritalin) for about two years now. The medication has been a Godsend for him and our family. His behavior goes way beyond simply "talking in class, wiggling, having lots of energy, [and] not paying attention." He gets up at 5:30 every morning, and cannot be quiet without someone or something to interact with (until recently, this meant waking every else up). He talks incessantly, asking question after question. Fifteen minutes of homework takes him two hours, and that's with me or my wife sitting beside him, constantly redirecting his attention to the work on the table. With medication, he is able to control himself, pay attention, get his homework done, and still enjoy friends, family, and fun. My wife and I thank God for Concerta.

I am thoroughly sick of ignorant people who condemn other parents' decisions, when they themselves know nothing of the individual circumstances those parents are facing. Spend a week in my house with my son and without medication, and then try to tell me that he's just showing "indications of, well, being young." I find this sort of facile criticism offensive.

Tanya S. said...

Mike Parker, I don't believe his (or anyone else's) comments were in criticism of legitimate use of Ritalin or other ADHD drugs. The criticism is using them in cases where the drugs are being used to control normal, healthy children. I am happy your son and your family has found help through medication. Unfortunately, even I - and I have no children - hear from friends, who do have children, their frustration as their kids' teachers suggest Ritalin, when the parents know the kids are fine. You are right: teachers are not trained medical professionals. Why then do too many of them suggest drugs to parents? Probably because they have 35 kids in their class.

If a child really suffers from ADD or ADHD, then Ritalin and its relatives are a godsend. The existence of the drugs and their proper use is not an issue. Their misuse is the problem.

Mike Parker said...

Tanya S.: Unfortunately, no such moderating words were used. Jeff's original post and all the comments (up until mine and yours) were disparaging of medical solutions to ADHD. In his post, Jeff talked about kids being wiggly, talking out of turn, and "just being young"; no mention was made of the significant number of cases where there is more to it than that. And one comment went so far as to accuse the pharmaceutical industry of conspiring with the education industry to push pills.

Far from encouraging medication, my experience (in two separate elementary schools in two separate school districts) has been that most teachers are opposed to using medication for ADHD. In fact, we had to get our son moved to a different third-grade class early this school year because his original teacher told us she didn't approve of medicating children and suggested we send him to school without it.

There is a large group of uninformed individuals in our society who think that ADHD doesn't exist, that's it's simply an excuse for people who don't know how to parent (one comment complained about the "subjective diagnosis for ADHD" -- what nonsense). This same group is using political muscle to limit the use of medication among children who need it. They need to walk a mile in my shoes first.

Mormanity said...

Mike, amigo, excuse me for having come across too harshly. I definitely wanted to point out (and thought I did in my opening) that there are people who provide evidence that it has helped them, and some people I know and respect have told me that it has helped there kids or them personally. I don't dispute that. My beef is not with informed parents who make a cautious choice. My concern is with the likelihook of the drug being overprescribed - i.e., that in some cases, probably many cases, it is given when it is not needed. And for some, that it is given without proper warnings about the risks.

Your yourself indicate that your child's behavior was way beyond just being energetic in class, which is consistent with the idea that it was needed for your son. But what about the many kids whose behavior is merely of the kind I describe - wiggly, etc.? I'm glad your school has been supportive and wise, but that is not the case universally. A friend of mine with a highly intelligent child was just told by a teacher that the kid probably should be put on medication. I am convinced that Ritalin is the last thing that his child needs.

I wanted to raise the issue so people could consider alternatives when they might not be fairly presented. In your school, it may not be a problem. That's great.

I do not intend to be judgmental of parents who work cautiously to find the right solution for serious problems in their children. I did not mean to stir up judgemental behavior with my post, but to caution those who may need to make a judgment for their own family based on incomplete information.

Mormanity said...

And I should add that my post expressed trouble not with the patents but with the minority (should have used that word) of educators who really push Ritalin. This minority may be small, but it does exist.

Mike Parker said...

Thanks, Jeff. In retrospect I probably overreacted to your blog entry and the responses it generated.

Our home was once a living hell (I'm not exaggerating), and my wife and I spent many nights on our knees in tears pleading for help. Putting our son on medication was the toughest decision we have ever made as parents, and we still worry about the long-term implications of our decision. It has not been an easy path, but it has made an enormous difference in the quality of our family life and his interactions at home, school, and church.

Needless to say, it's a sensitive subject, and it's easy for me to misread anti-medication statements as opposed to ALL meds, not just meds for kids who don't need it. There are so many people we've met who don't know anything about ADHD except what they've heard: That's it's an excuse for bad parenting, that it's just "kids being kids", etc. In real cases -- like ours -- it's a real condition that can be treated.

In our society there is a real stigma against psychiatric medication. Many people feel that it's a cop out, that with a little effort (or, for Mormons, a little prayer and fasting) the problems will just go away. They don't. And many families are struggling with ADHD, depression, and other treatable problems but won't go to a psychiatrist because they're ashamed or feel that would admit they're weak. I wish we as Americans and as Latter-day Saints could reach out to these people and let them know we empathize and that it's okay to ask for help.

Anti-Ritalin articles compound this stigma. Yes, it's probably true that some children are receiving it who don't need it, but there are many, many children who DO need it whose parents are scared by what they've heard and read online. To those parents, I encourage you to get help. Start by visiting CHADD.org, then see if you can find a competent child psychiatrist who can evaluate your child and make a recommendation.

Please know I have no hard feelings against you.

Mike Parker said...

One other thing: I strongly recommend Michael Fumento's February 2003 article in The New Republic. He dispels many of the myths about ADHD, including the ones about schools pushing it and children being overmedicated.

Anonymous said...

A priesthood blessing is an excellent substitute for medication. Many people have been healed of these sorts of things by receiving a priesthood blessing.

dubby said...

Ritalin is overprescribed. But it's not hard to tell the kid that doesn't need it. Normally if you give a stimulant to a kid, they become more wild. But with some over-active kids, Ritalin calms them down. It's kind of a paradox. Ritalin makes kids who don't need it either wild or zombies.

Because ADHD mimics behavior caused by lousy parenting, teachers think it is "polite" to pretend behavior problems are caused by ADHD first. Sometimes they say this as a way wake the parents up that there is a problem without directly blaming the parent. Would YOU want to tell someone they are a lousy parent?

But other problems that can cause these behaviors are lead poisoning, food allergies, sensitivities to food colors, preservatives, strong smells, and a host of other illnesses.

Our son was "true" ADHD - perfect score on the Connors hyperactivity scale. Put him on Ritalin after he was kicked out of school at age 9 and he did great. But at 14 he rebelled. Said he didn't like what it did to him and he would take responsibility for his handicap instead.

At 21, he is an awesome young man (and RM). Still ADHD (but so am I), his landlord calls him a "bright, good-humored, energetic, well-adjusted, and wonderfully friendly gift." And Ritalin is one of the tools that helped along the way.

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wally said...

Hi,

The use of drugs on kids is a terrible parenting or educational strategy. For people who think Ritalin is a safe and controlled substance, check out this Ritalin research which shows what people are really thinking about Ritalin.

chillgrandma said...

Recently we have found that some LDS primaries are encouraging or recommending that parents consider ritalin for their children. Grandma

Anonymous said...

if there is an LDS primary ANYWHERE recommending ritalin or ANY other drug, I recommend that the bishop or branch president do some serious counseling with that presidency.

Anonymous said...

I wish you people could live an ADHD life for a while and then you would eat your accusatory words. I wasn't diagnosed with ADHD until I was almost done with Grad school. I went to a church school, went on a mission, got married in the temple, did all the right things before I started getting ADHD treatment. It would have made my life so much better 20 years earlier. And yes it does calm you down, but if you can't control what you say or do, that is a good thing. ADHD is as real a problem as any other disease and medicine helps make it better.

Mark said...

I just wanted to give my feedback on ADHD. I am over 40 years old, and when my son was visiting for spring vacation 4 months ago, he told me about his ADHD. I went in and got tested myself - I was off the chart! Untreated ADHD made my life very difficult. I had difficulty on my mission, while at BYU, and my temple marraige ended up in divorce. I have a website located at www.adhdbeta.com. My story and links are all located there. I take 30mg of Adderall twice a day. I am also a high priest serving currently as 2nd assistant to the group leader. I am so very thankful for my son and I am very thankful for Adderall.

Anonymous said...

There is a company called Learning Technics that helped my sister and my brother when they were struggling in school. My sister was severely dyslexic, and my brother had adhd. The program at Learning Technics really helped them. They have both grown up a lot since, but it made a huge difference. My sister gets top grades in college and my brother gets B's now instead of F's in Jr. High.
I think their website is www.learningtechnics.com.
We lived in Utah then, but they might have offices other places. Hope it helps, and best of luck to all of you struggling with this.