Life in Overdrive
If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs,
- Donald D Quinn
Pupils Queue for Dose of Adjustment
by Roger Granklin
Pushing pills is big business in schools
New York - Whatever other shortcomings may be laid at the feet of those who run America's schools, a gift for hiding unpalatable truths behind bureaucratic euphemisms is clearly not one of them.
As children's voices rang out last week at memorial services to mark the first anniversary of the Columbine slaughter, United States educrats were adding to the list of opaque official titles that conceal some very strange jobs. Along with "self-esteem enhancement counsellor" and "conflict resolution mediator," no self-respecting school is these days without its "administering nurse." While the name makes her sound like a papershuffler, the truth is that this new breed of matrons - the country's fastest growing educational occupation - push pills instead of pens.
With more than 12% of America's school-age children now under the influence of mood-altering prescription drugs, somebody has to hand out those daily doses of attitude adjustment. In most schools, public and private alike, "pill time" has become an entirely unremarkable fact of everyday life. The lunch bell rings, a queue forms outside the school sick bay and students, the vast majority of them boys, wait dutifully to toss down their daily hit.
Just why so many American children are being medicated is a moot point.
Even Hillary Clinton, who has studiously avoided spelling out her positions on scores of other issues as she pursues a seat in the Senate, has joined the chorus of voices calling for "a full and comprehensive clinical review." In the meantime, drugs like Ritalin and Luvox cut across class, race and economic divisions. In some Harlem public schools, where parents are eligible for as much as an additional $US450 ($920) a month in welfare payments if their children are diagnosed with learning disabilities, entire classrooms are on one or other form of medication.
"I've had parents virtually threaten me with violence unless I designated their kids as suffering from attention deficit disorder," a New York pædiatric psychologist recently testified before a hearing of the city's Board of Education. And in the white, well-heeled suburbs, savvy parents know that a child officially listed as suffering from ADD is entitled to continue working on his scholastic aptitude tests long after his undosed friends have been ordered to put down their pens. Since American colleges use those same test scores to determine who will get a place, that extra time can mean the difference between Princeton University and Podunk Tech.
Although Clinton has refrained from stating whether she believes the drugs are over-prescribed, others have not minced words. Last week in Colorado, as Columbine residents were preparing to remember the high school's martyrs, the state's board of education formally endorsed an earlier resolution urging teachers to stop recommending psychoactive drugs for their more difficult students. That the resolution, the first of its kind in the US, was introduced in Colorado is understandable: Eric Harris had been taking Luvox for almost two years when he stalked into Columbine High with pal Dylan Klebold intent on settling a few scores.
Nor was he alone. A recent survey of schoolyard shootings by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights concluded that all but two of the students involved in high school gun attacks were on medication. "When the American Psychiatric Association declared ADD a recognised disorder in 1987, it started a gold rush," a commission spokesman said. "By 1997, Ritalin production increased by 655%. The economic incentives for keeping kids high are very potent. Schools, parents, drug companies and the psychiatric community all get something out of keeping kids high."
Conservative feminist Christina Hoff Summers, the author of Who Stole Feminism, has her own theory, one which will probably get scant attention from the National Institute of Mental Health. "The overwhelming majority of children diagnosed with ADD are boys and I do not believe that is an accident," Summers said. "Rather, I believe they are paying the price for a new orthodoxy in colleges of education that urges trainee teachers to regard female behaviour as the ideal. Boys are more physical, often harder to control and slower to mature emotionally. Therefore, the prevailing wisdom says they must need medicating. It is part of the forced feminisation, if you will, of the modern American boy."
Whatever conclusions the latest study reaches, it will be a long time coming. The mental health institute has already spent more than $US21 million looking into the subject over the previous decade, so the additional $US6 million the President has pledged for further study over the next six years hardly seems likely to break new ground. In the meantime, the prescriptions will continue to be written and the positions-vacant columns of the teachers' union newspapers will carry more of those ads for administrative nurses. They will have their work cut out for them.
Source: Weekend Herald, 29 - 30 April 2000
From my journal Tuesday 9 May 95 (we were living on the boat in Wellington Harbour and had not yet received residency; indeed, we were beginning to despair of ever doing so):
From my journal Sunday 21 May 95:
In the US, classrooms in the "better" schools can be quite competitive as students vie for the chance of a scholarship to one of the ivy league universities. If grading is done on the curve, and if Ritalin helps a segment of the classroom to focus and to make better grades, are the students who don't take Ritalin being disadvantaged in much the same way as are the bodybuilders who never take steroids? (Though I suppose no one on Ritalin will win an Olympic gold medal.)
Perhaps some day herbs like ginkgo biloba (which supposedly increases blood flow to the brain) will be tested for and banned in the classroom and in such Olympic sports as chess lest they confer an unfair advantage to a select few. (As if life doesn't do that already.)
Mothers "Sedating Unruly Children"
Brisbane - Mothers unashamedly sedated unruly children with over-the-counter cough and cold mixtures in a trend that raised important public health issues, a researcher said yesterday. Pascale Allotey, a lecturer in women's health at the University of Melbourne, said a pilot study of mothers with children under five had confirmed reports of widespread use of antihistamines to "keep children quiet."
"We've now coined the expression 'social medication' which is using a drug for the sole purpose of controlling behaviour rather than for the purpose for which it was intended," Dr Allotey said. She said interviews with 40 Melbourne mothers showed most used the drugs, not despite their sedating side-effects, but because of them. Dr Allotey said nearly all the mothers used paracetamol to "settle" their children, not necessarily for pain relief. One woman said of her three-year-old: "Last week he was cranky because he lost his Elmo sunglasses and he wouldn't calm down so I gave him some Panadol which settled him."
Antihistamines such as Phenergan were often used when travelling, and to sedate "fractious" children. Another interviewee said: "These medications save children's lives because it stops mothers from throwing them against the wall."
Dr Allotey and co-author David Reidpath from Deakin University said the study indicated parental use of over-the-counter drugs may be as important a public health issue as the use of prescription psychotropic drugs in children. "Our concern is that parents are likely to medicate their children like this are maybe the ones which present them later on for attention deficit disorder because they believe medication should control children's behaviour," Dr Allotey said. "Are we creating a culture of pill-popping to get children to conform to a notion of 'the normal child'?"
Dr Allotey said the two mothers in the study who did not use the drugs for sedation each had partners working in the health professions, one a doctor and one in the ambulance service. "We were surprised that so many were prepared to talk about how they used these drugs, with no issues of shame." - AAP
Source: The Dominion Wednesday 29 November 2000
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