Monday, April 1, 2013

One In Ten And Rising

Born to Win Part One - Hurray for the Riff Raff (mp3)

“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored.” -- Dr. William Graf, pediatric neurologist and professor at Yale School of Medicine

The latest statistics on ADHD in America are out, and they should leave you floored. One in five boys aged 14-17 are diagnosed. Fifteen percent of all boys are being diagnosed, and 11% of all U.S. children.

Although estimates of actual occurrance of ADHD in children have run in the 3-7% range, we’re easily doubling that number, and the American Psychiatric Association is on the verge of loosening its definition to allow, potentially, even more diagnoses to be made, even more prescriptions to be written.

Here’s perhaps my favorite quote from the article:
“There’s no way that one in five high-school boys has A.D.H.D.,” said James Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Florida International University and one of the primary A.D.H.D. researchers in the last 20 years.
If one is to believe in ADHD at all -- and I do -- then at least a third of all kids being diagnosed actually do suffer from this disorder. Perhaps as many as half. I have friends and relatives aplenty whose children (almost all of them boys) have been diagnosed with ADHD. For some, medication has helped tremendously. For others, it’s been a washout. For almost all of them, it has been an agonizing process for the parents, wrestling with complicated issues of guilt and uncertainty.

None of the parents I know personally sought out an ADHD diagnosis without being egged on by friends, relatives and often teachers, and none of them did it specifically to improve test scores or academic performance. I do not mock their struggle or their frustrations with raising their children. Yet, to riff Garrison Keillor, if half are accurately diagnosed, another half are being sucked into the void for the sake of expediency, laziness or profit.

We’re talking about a diagnosis that spurs $9 BILLION a year in stimulant sales, a profit that has more than doubled in five years. When one reads that the APA is about to open the floodgates even wider, thus allowing that amount to go up several more billion in the coming years, we should be suspicious. The Spidey-Sense should tingle.

While Scientology goes too far in excoriating the psychiatric industry for its “crimes against humanity,” it is also unquestionably true that Modern America has become far too trusting of prescription medications to cure everything that ails us. One in three of us take a scrip. More than 1 in 10 Americans take three or more prescription drugs regularly. I couldn’t find an estimate for the number of people who encounter unexpected but serious medical problems because of a “bad reaction” between medications they’re prescribed.

Psychology, while flawed, has tremendous power for doing wonders. Mental disorders are not something invented by Glaxo. But in fields like medicine and science, there is no pendulum swing. We will not likely arrive at some magic point when the DSM gets smaller, where fewer docs write scrips. If that day were to come, they’d just broaden the symptoms like they’re doing now with ADHD to pull more people under the umbrella.

What I fear is that the cart has begun to lead the horse, that profitability has become more important than healing. What I fear is that it’s been like this for far longer than I’m willing to admit. Maybe if I’d been given something to clear my head, I might have noticed before now.

Too many of our children, 20 or 30 years from now, will look back on their youth with anger and a sense of betrayal, horrified that we too often, for far too many, prioritized medicated passivity and group-think. They will wonder what might have happened had they not been calmed into a mild stupor for half their adolescent life.

They will wonder why we were so quick to note, almost with a wisp of sadness, just how many great thinkers and artists likely had ADHD, before pulling that child-proof bottle out of the medicine cabinet one more time to quash that potential in our kid.

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