By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It’s time we recognize this as a crisis.
If you have a son, you have a one-in-seven chance that he has been diagnosed with ADHD. If you have a son who has been diagnosed, it’s more than likely that he has been prescribed a stimulant to deal with the symptoms of that psychiatric condition.
The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies stimulants as Schedule II drugs, defined as having a “high potential for abuse” and “with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” (According to a University of Michigan study, Adderall is the most abused brand-name drug among high school seniors.) In addition to stimulants like Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, and Concerta, Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, Demerol, and OxyContin.
According to manufacturers of ADHD stimulants, they are associated with sudden death in children who have heart problems, whether those heart problems have been previously detected or not. They can bring on a bipolar condition in a child who didn’t exhibit any symptoms of such a disorder before taking stimulants. They are associated with “new or worse aggressive behavior or hostility.” They can cause “new psychotic symptoms (such as hearing voices and believing things that are not true) or new manic symptoms.” They commonly cause noticeable weight loss and trouble sleeping. In some children, some stimulants can cause the paranoid feeling that bugs are crawling on them. Facial tics. They can cause children’s eyes to glaze over, their spirits to dampen. One study reported fears of being harmed by other children and thoughts of suicide.
These boys are suffering like this because of a mistake. Because a doctor examined him for twelve minutes, looked at a questionnaire on which he had checked some boxes, listened to the boy’s parents brief and vague report that he seemed to have trouble sitting still in kindergarten, made a diagnosis for a disorder the boy doesn’t have, and wrote a prescription for a powerful drug he doesn’t need. If you have a son in America, there is an alarming probability that this has happened or will happen to you.
On this everyone agrees: The numbers are big. The number of children who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—overwhelmingly boys—in the United States has climbed at an astonishing rate over a relatively short period of time. The Centers for Disease Control first attempted to tally ADHD cases in 1997 and found that about 3 percent of American schoolchildren had received the diagnosis, a number that seemed roughly in line with past estimates. But after that year, the number of diagnosed cases began to increase by at least 3 percent every year. Then, between 2003 and 2007, cases increased at a rate of 5.5 percent each year. In 2013, the CDC released data revealing that 11 percent of American schoolchildren had been diagnosed with ADHD, which amounts to 6.4 million children between the ages of four and seventeen—a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 42 percent increase since 2003. Boys are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed as girls—15.1 percent to 6.7 percent. By high school, even more boys are diagnosed—nearly one in five.
## 20 Percent.
And overall, of the children in this country who are told they suffer from attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, two thirds are on prescription drugs.
And on this, too, everyone agrees: That among those millions of diagnoses, there are false ones. That there are high-energy kids—normal boys, most likely—who had the misfortune of seeing a doctor who had scant (if any) training in psychiatric disorders during his long-ago residency but had heard about all these new cases and determined that a hyper kid whose teacher said he has trouble sitting still in class must have ADHD. That among the 6.4 million are a significant percentage of boys who are swallowing pills every day for a disorder they don’t have.
Today, it has simply become a default method for dealing with a “difficult” child.
“We are pathologizing boyhood,” says Ned Hallo-well, a psychiatrist who has been diagnosed with ADHD himself and has cowritten two books about it, Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction. “God bless the women’s movement—we needed it—but what’s happened is, particularly in schools where most of the teachers are women, there’s been a general girlification of elementary school, where any kind of disruptive behavior is sinful. What I call the ‘moral diagnosis’ gets made: You’re bad. Now go get a doctor and get on medication so you’ll be good. And that’s a real perversion of what ought to happen. Most boys are naturally more restless than most girls, and I would say that’s good. But schools want these little goody-goodies who sit still and do what they’re told—these robots—and that’s just not who boys are.”
Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus at Duke University School of Medicine, the former chairman of its psychiatry department, and the chairman of the DSM-IV (1994) task force, feels the problem is not corruption but the slow creep of misinformation. “I know the people. They’re not doing it for the drug companies—they really believe what they’re doing is right. They really believe ADHD is underdiagnosed, and they want to help people who should be getting medication. I just think they’re dead wrong.”
Frances points to the fact that in August 1997—the same year the CDC first started tallying ADHD cases in the United States—the Food and Drug Administration made it easier for pharmaceutical companies to advertise their drugs to consumers. Spending on direct-to-consumer drug advertising increased from 20 million in 1997 to more than .8 billion by 2002.
It’s not that Frances believes ADHD is not a real and valid diagnosis; he just believes that these days it’s made so frequently it has been rendered meaningless. “It’s been watered down so much in the way it’s applied that it now includes many kids who are just developmentally different or are immature,” he says. “It’s a disease called childhood.”
Many of the people interviewed who have had direct experience with ADHD—parents of children who’d been diagnosed, psychiatrists, adult ADHD patients will assure you that ADHD is a real disorder, not some made-up condition.
“It’s important to understand that ADHD is a very real, serious, neurobiological disorder,” said Saltarelli, the neurologist who was formerly senior vice-president of clinical development at Shire, maker of Adderall and Vyvanse, which is now the most common brand of stimulant prescribed for ADHD. He repeated this point several times during our hour-long conversation.
“I don’t think in the medical community or in the research community there is any question that this is a brain disorder. I really don’t think that is in question,” Ruth Hughes, the CHADD CEO, told *Esquire* after being asked about the validity of brain scans that purport to show ADHD, which have been disputed by other scientists.
“There is no doubt in my mind that I really believe this is a disorder, disease, condition, whatever you do—like, it is for real,” said Tracie Giles, a parent of four children, two of whom have been diagnosed. She is the coordinator of the local CHADD chapter in Wayne County, Michigan.
ADHD isn’t strep throat—there’s no culture, no test. To find out if you have it, or if your son has it, or if your daughter has it, you just need a human being to say so—a physician or a psychiatrist—and that makes some people skeptical. Google “Does ADHD exist?” Up pop the detractors who call the very disorder into question.
## What do you think? Is ADHD a real disorder or a scam from Big Pharma?[Read the whole article here.](http://www.esquire.com/features/drugging-of-the-american-boy-0414?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits)