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Stimulant Drugs for Children? A Ridiculous Concept

It has always been amazing to me how doctors can prescribe a myriad of psychoactive drugs that have neither been properly studied nor proved to be effective.  Antidepressant medications such as SSRI’s have never been shown to be very effective at treating patients from depression– in fact, they are little or no better than placebos.  Furthermore, every study that has compared exercise to antidepressant therapy has found exercise to be much more effective.  I discussed this phenomenon in my book, Drugs That Don’t Work and Natural Therapies That Do.

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (6.17.13) was titled, “A Nation of Kids on Speed.”  This article was written by Drs. Cohen and Rasmusson.  In this illuminating article, they describe the history of amphetamines.  Examples of present-day amphetamines include best-selling drugs Ritalin and Adderall.    Amphetamines were initially prescribed in the early 20th Century as antidepressants and weight loss aids.  The authors of the WSJ article point out that, “Decades would pass until research demonstrated the lack of long-term benefit for most cases of depression and weight loss, but the lack of proof didn’t hold doctors back from liberally prescribing stimulants to millions of housewives in postwar suburbs.”  In fact, by 1969, doctors were prescribing the equivalent of 120mg of amphetamine for each American.  It wasn’t until the Controlled Substances Act of 1971, which mandated stimulant prescriptions would be classified as Scheduled II drugs and each prescription written by a doctor had to be reported, that the number of stimulant prescriptions began to fall.

You would have thought that the medical profession would have learned its lesson—that stimulant drugs were dangerous.  However, keep in mind that we are dealing with Big Pharma here.  In the late 1980’s, Big Pharma found a new avenue for stimulant drugs.  They began promoting stimulate use for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.  A short time later, stimulants began to be prescribed in ever-increasing numbers.  Parents were reassured that childhood stimulant use would not result in adverse effects such as future drug abuse.  However, there were no studies and there still are no studies that prove or disprove this claim about childhood stimulant use.  Keep in mind, nearly 10% of U.S. children are diagnosed with ADHD and millions are taking ADHD stimulant medications now.

The authors of the WSJ article point out that “…the only randomized trial to study future substance abuse by ADHD kids refuted the notion that stimulants, when taken in childhood, have a protective effect. {Instead}, investigators found strong evidence that ADHD itself in fact predisposes children to later substance abuse but no evidence that stimulant medication reduces this rate any better than treating ADHD with behavioral approaches.”

I have always marveled at the power of Big Pharma. They can take a dangerous class of medications—stimulants—which are addictive and prone to serious adverse effects, and convince both doctors and parents they are safe to give to children.  However, the blame here does not fall equally.  Doctors deserve more blame.  They should know and understand the dangers of stimulants and prescribe them judiciously.  Unfortunately, that is not happening.  Stimulants are some of the most popular drugs prescribed today.

Do I think stimulants should never be prescribed for ADHD?  No.  I have witnessed some patients doing remarkably better with stimulants, children and adults alike.  However, before placing children on a potentially dangerous medication, doctors should initiate a thorough search for the underlying cause(s) of ADHD.   Once the underlying cause is ascertained, a rational treatment program can be started.  What are some of the underlying causes of ADHD?  My experience has shown that nutritional and hormonal imbalances deficiencies along with poor dietary habits can cause ADHD (as well as depression).  I frequently lecture about a boy who was diagnosed with ADHD and had an undiagnosed hypothyroid condition.  When the hypothyroid condition was properly treated his ADHD symptoms disappeared.  I have treated untold numbers of children with attention problems by cleaning up their diet and correcting nutritional deficiencies.  It does not take an advanced degree to realize that ADHD is not caused by a ‘Ritalin- or Adderal- deficiency syndrome’.

Final Thoughts

Doctors should understand the importance of nutrition and diet.  Dangerous prescription drugs should be prescribed as a last step after exhausting other less-toxic means.   Parents need to educate themselves about any drug their child is going to take.  And, finally, parents need to feed their children healthy food.

I shudder to think how the younger generation is going to cope in adulthood.  Stimulant use is not the best way to treat the vast majority of children (and adults) suffering from ADHD.  In fact, stimulants should be the last step in any ADHD treatment plan— that includes both adults and children.



Author Info

David Brownstein

Comments ( 7 )

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    Robert Sorenson

    Thank You doctor for this insightful article. This should be required reading
    for all public school teachers, administrators, Sp. Ed. personnel: Specialists, aides,
    psychologists, Too many uninformed decisions being made.
    Bob–retired administrator, public schools, California

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    I was diagnosed with ADD at age 42 1/2 and put on Adderall. It helped significantly. However, one year later I developed a 24/7 headache with a migraine and had never had headaches before. I was finally diagnosed with an extremely rare, spontaneous CSF “brain leak” causing the 24/7 headache (only person in my city of 2 million, and only one in the history of my neurologists’ practice) and after that was resolved, a few months later the migraines were discovered o be due to a gluten allergy. Needless to say during this time I stopped using Adderall. I have found that removing gluten from my diet has cleared a lot of my ADD symptoms. I now wonder if I have an undiagnosed thyroid issue on top of that.

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    The more prevalent cause of ADHD is actually underdeveloped neuropaths in the brain which because of non-connection to each other do not “fire up” properly. The stimulants allow this firing of the neuro sensors and thus result in better focus and concentration. ADHD is predominantly a physiological condition versus a diet condition. Although, diet can improve the situation, it cannot by itself resolve the symptoms of ADHD. There are neuro therapy protocols (various cross body exercises) that can trigger the underdeveloped portions to actually grow and connect, which is a more direct approach to resolving ADHD than diet alone and also a safe alternative to taking stimulants.

    I am not a doctor but a parent with an ADHD child. I have done extensive research on this subject, and encourage other parents to do their own reseach. Altering diet to resolve health issues is very difficult even for an adult, and for children it’s painful and they feel like they’re being punished, which is why I looked into the subject further. I do watch the sugar intake and serve whole grains with fresh fruit and vegetables, but restricting children from ALL the “bad” stuff is unrealistic and in moderation results in a happier child overall. Don’t get stuck in the old adage, “Can’t see the forest through the trees” – keep the big picture in mind.

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    The anti-depressant Paxil ENDED my months long SEVERE depression in about 3 days. These drugs do work.

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    Thank you for the information on this subject. Parents should do research before putting their children on these drugs.

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    Great blog post! I wouldn’t be surprised if long-term use of stumulant drugs caused heart problems later on, especially when they’re started on young kids. The sci-fi author Philip K. Dick was put on stimulant drugs for asthma as a child, and it not only predisposed him to a lifetime of self-medication, but also, in my opinion, contibuted to his death from a heart attack at the age of 51, even though he had been off them for over a decade.
    By the way, I agree, “Drugs that don’t Work…” is a fantastic home reference book, and I’ve asked my local library to order it.

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    Sue M.M.

    Wonderful note! I read the article in the WSJ and agree. As a nurse and a parent, it saddens me that parents allow the drugs to be given to their children without thoroughly researching the cause of the siorder.

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