Life in Overdrive


Chill Out

If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs,
and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance,
had to treat them all with professional excellence for 9 months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job.

- 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

See also:

bulletAll Work and No Play Make Jack a Drugged Boy - restricting play at US schools increases attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  One in 18 US school children suffers from ADHD (½ are being treated with the psycho-stimulant drug Ritalin).  Their numbers have increased by 600% since 1990 (the US has five times the cases of the rest of the world combined)...

Too High

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):

I once read a book called The Family Crucible by authors Augustus Napier and Carl A Whitaker.  Napier is a family therapist associated with the Psychiatry Department of the University of Wisconsin.  The main point of his book is that the troubled child is the one the family has selected to serve as the scapegoat, with each member involved in a pattern handed down through generations; every member of the family must change his or her behaviour to effect a change in the most troubled member.  (Some parents prefer the fault to lie wholly with the child and give him or her drugs as a shortcut to change.)

In The Diner the other day I ran across an old issue of the New Zealand edition of Time magazine (5 September 1994).  In it, I read an article entitled "Life in Overdrive" about kids who have been, or could've been, diagnosed with attentional deficit disorder.  I learned that ADD is the most common behavioural disorder in American children and one of the fastest-growing diagnostic categories for adults.  It's the subject of a great controversy; in the US, awareness has become an industry, a passion, an almost messianic movement.  There are summer camps, videos, children's books, therapists, tutors, and workshops.  I read where the distractibility of people with ADD makes them especially alert to changes in their environment - probably pretty good people to have with you on a boat - but they don't function well in standard schools and in typical office jobs.  (That's supposed to be a disorder??)  Some experts worry that the "disorder" is being embraced with too much gusto.  A professor at a children's hospital sees it as a way parents avoid responsibility.  Doctors don't have a precise physiology of the "disease"; just because something responds to medicine, that doesn't mean it's a sickness.  A pædiatrician says the diagnosis is an attempt to impose a homogenic condition on a heterogenic group of kids.  A New York clinical neurologist says we're living in a society that's so out-of-control, people want their kids to have attention-focusing stimulants so the parents can cope.

Where is the boundary between personality and pathology?  The article questions whether ADD is a brain disorder or simply a personality type.  The authors say it's the right home life which makes all the difference.  "In a conformist society, it becomes necessary to medicate some people to make them fit in."  Some children need a structured home, consistent discipline, individual attention, and a flexible society which accommodates differences.  Or Ritalin.

From my journal Sunday 21 May 95:

I read Cathy's book on Attention Deficit Disorder.  I think I understand why she gives her son Ritalin.  I think she's looking for a conforming child but got an impulsive, spontaneous one instead.  Over time, two people who live together closely develop areas of friction.  Jeff and I are no exception.  Would I give drugs to Jeff to "round out" his personality, reducing the tendency for us to grind on each other?  Several things stand in the way: I can't selectively change just what I want - eliminating unwanted characteristics also wipes out others best kept.  I'd have to drug him without his knowledge because he'd never willingly agree.  Getting the dosage just right (if "right" is a term that can be applied) would be tricky and the ideal dosage would change over time.

There are an awful lot of people who have ADD characteristics that I've met in my life.  [My husband] Jeff is one.  He said his mother once considered giving him amphetamines to calm his hyperactivity (but didn't).  He remembers feeling she was rejecting him.  (His adopted brother was naturally calmer.)

A disproportionately large number of people who fit the criteria for ADD (5% of the population in the US) could be described as unique, memorable, interesting (though intermittently irritating).  Should it be MY decision to change any of them?  Jeff asked if I'd like it if he put tranquilizers in my food as a favour to me so I wouldn't be so uptight sometimes.  If he didn't tell me, maybe I'd find myself thinking I was feeling mellow more often than I do now.  If he DID tell me, I'd feel a threat to my personal integrity.

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

Also see:

bulletThe People's Prozac (earlier in this section) - chemical cousins Adderall and Ecstasy carry similar risks, but while one is considered safe for America's youth, the other is its scourge.  Maybe the government's line - that MDMA causes brain damage - isn't so clear-cut after all.  "You can buy d-amphetamine on the street, and that's bad, but you can give the same compound to a kid chronically - twice a day, every day for the rest of their lives...If you truly believe MDMA is bad, then why would you give [Adderall] to your kids?"
bulletTurn Out the Lights (in the section on Society and Culture) - Children in California's group and foster homes are routinely drugged.  The page contains a funny 3.5 meg Flash movie clip (only partly sarcastic) about the joys of feeding your kids chewable Valium.
bulletA Photo Gallery of Plastic Surgery (in the section on Relationships) - You can change the outside of your kid as well.  (Remodel them!  It's cheaper than buying a new one!)

This section on enhancing human experience covers bodybuilding, marijuana, caffeine, amphetamines, ecstasy, PMA, alcohol, Ritalin, kava, nicotine, cooked food and more.  Clicking "Up" below will take you to the Index page for this section on Drugs.

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