The diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has itself become hyperactive, with doctors handing out too many pills, ads creating unrealistic expectations, and drug companies downplaying side effects like insomnia and mood swings, the New York Times reports. "The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it's not. It's preposterous," said Keith Conners, a doctor who once led the charge to legitimize ADHD. "This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels." Among the Times' findings:
- Scientists estimate that real ADHD affects around 5% of children, but the CDC says that 15% of high schoolers have been diagnosed, and the number of children on ADHD drugs has risen from 600,000 in 1990 to 3.5 million today. So what's driving the diagnoses?
- Millions are spent on ads, some targeted directly at children or parents, saying that ADHD drugs like Adderall will improve performance in school and even inspire kids to take out the garbage. The FDA has repeatedly told drug companies to withdraw such ads, and one company, Shire, agreed this year to pay $57.5 million in fines for improper advertising and sales of drugs.
- Drug companies also target parents through sources that seem independent, like teachers and support groups. Two parents near Seattle put their child on Ritalin for 3 years because teachers—who had received materials from the drug company Ciba—pushed them into it. "I definitely felt seduced and enticed," said the father. "I’d say baited."
- You'll hear that ADHD is a lifelong condition, but at least some doctors who say so are on Big Pharma's payroll. And studies show that about half of ADHD kids don't have the disorder as adults. Meanwhile, drug companies are successfully targeting the adult ADHD market.
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