I was invited to sit on a panel at Roosevelt Elementary School in Burbank recently to discuss “Distracted Kids”, kids who can’t sit still in class, can’t focus on their homework, kids who just don’t pay attention to what we think is important.
As I describe at length in any talk I give, it’s not that these kids don’t have the ability to pay attention, they can certainly focus on a video game or TV show, it’s that the mechanisms of allocating their ability to focus that are not functioning properly. There is an enormous amount of competition for our attention in our modern world and we all have to work to keep from being distracted. It’s doubly hard for developing brains that are not as regulated as adult ones.
Where I take issue is with the ease that we give our kids drugs so they can “do well in school” and “get good grades”. Laudable goals, but do most parents, or doctors for that matter, really know what the repercussions of those decisions are?
Data and Statistics About ADHD
Let me just briefly share some statistics for you to reflect on.
- 3 million children in the US takes drugs for focus problems. According to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.1 million children had been given diagnoses of A.D.H.D. and 62 percent (3.7 million) were taking medication. Just under half (47%) received any behavioral treatment for their ADHD in the past year.
- There is an annual quota on the manufacturing of these medications, which are all Class II drugs monitored by the DEA. There is an ongoing panic by parents who are alarmed that there might not be enough drugs like Ritalin and Adderall available due to a potential shortage. Now let me give you give you the backdrop to that quota.
- In 1990 the production quota for methylphenidate (Ritalin) was 1700 kg. By 2022 the quota was a staggering 57,438 kg, over 60 tons.
- The quota for amphetamines (Adderall) went from 417 kg in 1990 to 44,300 kg (over 48 tons) in 2022.
ADHD medication for kids: Is it safe? Does it help?
What happens to that 100+ plus TONS of addictive medication?
90%, yes 90%, of the Ritalin produced in the world is consumed in the U.S. Is it possible that in the space of one generation we have uncovered a genetic mutation that makes millions of children biologically unable to pay attention? And that the brain anomaly is only found in the U.S? Do these statistics make any sense to anyone other than the drug companies who sell them?
That supposed deficit requires them to consume a drug, which has not been studied long term, and often have disastrous side effects. Those side effects include stunted growth, sleep disorders, shrinking of the brain tissue, restricted blood flow to the brain, a 3-fold likelihood of cocaine addiction in later life, and many others.
And the shocking part is that these drugs are only effective for a very short period of time with no demonstrated benefits over time for academic advantage, peer relationships or behavior. The warning labels on the medications are quite clear yet these drugs are prescribed as easily as aspirin. That easy to see in the quotas. There’s something wrong with the system.
I suggest we back off the diagnosis of ADD, acknowledge that kids have a wide range of abilities to attend at any given age, and find new ways to engage them in the tasks that need doing. Less rigid structure at school, less standardized testing that puts undue pressure on young minds to perform, more physical exercise, fresh air, better diet, less TV/Video.
But that advice goes for us adults, too. We have to model the best behaviors for our children. Take your kids for a hike, read a book together, cook a nutritious meal together, turn off the TV. Most importantly, stop thinking that “there’s a pill for that”.
The first one isn’t free after all.