Let’s give amphetamines to children, said the shrinks. What could go wrong?
A lot, it turns out: 2021 saw some 7,600 poison-control calls driven by medication errors around ADHD drugs like adderall, which is an amphetamine, up from 1,900 in 2000.
That’s a 300% increase, and it should have every parent worried.
Because ADHD drugs like adderall and related compounds — which were responsible for about half of those 7,600 calls in 2021 — and ritalin are handed out like candy in America.
An estimated 6 million minors are on the treatments, including 265,000 or so between the ages of 3 and 5.
A shocking 10% of the nation’s kids have been diagnosed with ADHD at some point, per federal data; the incidence of diagnosis nearly doubled from 1997 to 2016, a trend that recent numbers suggest was then supercharged amid the pandemic, lockdowns and school closings.
Obviously, some of these kids may need pharmaceutical intervention. But the criteria include things like impulsivity and inattentiveness, i.e. qualities that in general distinguish kids from adults.
And 10% of all America’s kids needing the drugs sure seems suspiciously high.
Especially when boys are three times more likely to get diagnosed than girls.
Then, too, an ADHD diagnosis can qualify a child for all kinds of accommodations in school and testing — an incentive for pushy parents to find compliant doctors to help their kids eke out an edge.
Recall too that a 2023 study showed that rates of ADHD-med abuse hit as high as 25% of all kids in some US middle and high schools — and that those higher rates of abuse were strongly connected to higher rates of ADHD med prescriptions.
All this means that millions of kids enter adulthood with what amounts to a chemical dependency in order to function at all, be that in college or on the job.
While the bulk of the poison-control incidents involving ADHD meds didn’t result in serious medical issues (thank goodness), the scale and speed of the increase serves as an index of just how easily available for use and abuse these powerful medications are.
It should also serve as a warning sign to US doctors and parents: Does every fidgety, school-hating kid need to be drugged into compliance? Should teens really feel the need to use performance-enhancing drugs the way pro-athletes use steroids?
By medicalizing our problems (and not just with ADHD), we’ve created a new — and worse — category of social ills.
Time for a big rethink.