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join the discussion/share your story: what are your thoughts on the surge in prescription drugs for childrens' behavioral and attention span problems?  we invite you to share your own  family's story.">

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was interested in hearing if there had been any changes with the use of Ritalin for ADD/ADHD, and if it was still being used into adulthood. My son was diagnosed ADHD in 1983 and I waited 2 years before I decided to start him on Ritalin. He took it from the age of 7 to 16. Although I felt it helped him concentrate and get through school, when he said he wanted to stop taking it, I felt he was old enough to make that choice. Unfortunately, it was also around the time he began experimenting with street drugs. Is there any info on a connection to Ritalin use in childhood and substance abuse in late teens/young adulthood? I feel my son's ADHD is still a problem in his life and I'm looking for any studies or programs that could help him overcome his addiction now that he is an adult. He is beginning a family, and his girlfriend was also ADD and now they have a baby together. What are the chances this child will also be ADHD? Thanks for you help.

Liberty, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

my son has been ADHD since he was born. he inherited it. his father and other relatives close behind them. he was a moody unsocial little kid. he never completed his work in class, so therefore didn't do well at all. he constantly disrupted the class and couln't sit still for one minute. after medicating him, the results were immediate. he was a new child. although nothing ever changed as far as the social. kids are hard on kids that are different. but, his work had a tremendous improvement and he could sit still long enough to learn. i didn't like the ritalin, it didn't help his moodiness. later came the dexidrine. that was the miracle drug. im glad we medicated him, because now he's almost out of high school with a real chance of college. and he's looking forward to it. medication WAS the answer for us. we are truely grateful. without it my son was always in trouble. daredevil, life threatening chances, i could tell you more. but the bottom line is, WITH THE RIGHT DOCTOR AND THE RIGHT SUPPORT FROM HOME-THESE KIDS CAN ACHIEVE A WORTHWHILE LIFE!!!!

BEV brown of lonepine ca.

bev brown
lone pine, ca.

Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching your program and reading through some of the discussion comments and articles, I was struck that perhaps "to drug or not to drug" is not the appropriate question. While on the one hand the biological causes of ADHD remain murky, on the other hand many parents and educators report "immediate and dramatic" effects. Since I am always suspicious of miracle cures, I wonder if perhaps treating our children as if they are machines with a single gear that needs to be fixed is really the best long-term method of resolving what appears to be a social problem as well as a biological one. Perhaps we should begin treating our children as whole beings, taking into consideration both nature and nurture by treating not just the brain but also the heart and the soul. Whether or not we choose to medicate our children, we should not ignore other factors influencing their bodies and their experiences, such as diet, activity level, home environment, school environment, and so on. With this kind of wholistic approach, I think we may be able to help many kids who "don't fit in," not just those with ADHD.

Chicago, IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

A recent study found a huge increase in the number of children - some of them as young as two - being given powerful stimulants, such as the pervasive amphetamine Ritalin, or mind-altering anti-depressants such as Prozac. The study that appeared in the Journal of the AMA and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, found a 50 per cent increase in drug prescriptions for two to four-year-olds between 1991 and 1995. Across the board, the prescription of Ritalin had tripled. The consumption of psychiatric drugs such as Prozac doubled. There are nearly 7 million young minds - in some classes four out of every 10 children - being drugged in the name of mental health, although not a single study has shown these drugs to be of any real benefit.

ADHD, which was invented in the 1980s by a bunch of psychiatrists sitting around a table, is now the most prescribed "illness" among US children. Who knows if your child has it? It's all a mystery, because it all comes down to the opinion of "trained professionals" trained by whom? who can't even agree on what it is. No one can disagree with the fact that one in 10 children on long-term Ritalin therapy have been found to suffer from brain shrinkage, and there are more than 100 known side effects from the use of these drugs.

Drugs like Ritalin will calm a troubled child, but I grow most uneasy regarding over-prescription and misdiagnosis. Doctors haven't studied children for more than three to five years of Ritalin use, and those suffering withdrawal reported lack of concentration, fatigue, depression and irritability when they didn't take their medication. Many physicians believe in these cases that the patients have become addicted.

Americans believe that under-performance and misbehavior in children represent genetic and biochemical defects in the children's brain. In other parts of the world medication is reserved for only the most extreme cases of hyperactivity. Nowhere else on earth is there a culture or society that so believes that spiritual and emotional contentment will come from the accumulation of material wealth. In America, corporate and consumer fundamentalism is our state religionthe message is delivered every eight minutes on television: "Buy this and you'll be happy." In such a culture, anything that can offer improvements in performance will be highly attractive, be it Ritalin, Prozac or Viagra. TV messages here are "TAKE this and you'll be happy". Other countries look at the USA with horror as America's huge and profitable drug companies are now bringing the rest of the world Ritalin and Prozac.

As a recovering alcoholic of 20 years and mother of six, I'm very concerned about the lack of discipline in this country, the strong ethic of materialism, the violent behaviors which go uncorrected, and the reliance on taking a drug to disguise the problem rather than searching for the solution.

The real drug pushers in this nation don't live in back alleys or ghettos. They have names like Bristol-Myers-Squibb, and the dealers have medical degrees. Before the casualties mount even higher, isn't it time to start the real war on drugs?

Sunnyvale, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

As an educator, I was very pleased to see an attempt made to present this subject matter in such a comprehensive way.

Particularly in a middle school, prescription drugs for behavior seem to be the magic bullet in terms of what to recommend to boost academic performance as well as control negative behavior.

I agree with the parent that mentioned that American schools as well as medicine have become "one-size-fits-all" institutions. I see it on a daily basis in the school where I work and as a teacher, there isn't always a lot that I can do about it.

My advice to parents is two fold - 1 Educate yourself about what you and your child are entitled to in a public school setting. Do not rely on the school itself to disclose all your options, since monetarily or legally it's not always in the school's best interest. Teachers are the go-betweens in this type of situation and they may WANT to give a parent the whole picture, but are concerned about possibly jeopardizing their jobs by not putting the school's concerns first.

2 Beware of so-called professionals and beware of trends that promise instant fixes, especially those that are linked to medicine. Side effects are real and they may be there even if you don't notice them. Research, research, research, ask questions, and don't allow your child to be a guinea pig. You know your child best, so be honest with yourself about your child's strengths and weaknesses and always attempt the more conservative measures first. Lastly, there is no drug substitute for discipline at home and parental input in a child's formative years.

A teacher always knows which student's parents are involved in a genuine way, which child's parents who just go through the motions, and which child's parents who just don't care.

Boston, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Several years ago my son's teacher pre-first grade decided that he may be ADHD and should be put on Ritalin. I began to spend more time with him and work with him on his emotional status. Fortunately, this process worked and he was never put on drugs.

I did receive the sheet asking the "28 questions", which helped, but were not completed in full, therefore, no final answer was derived.

I do not think that teachers have the right to assume children are ADHD due to the fact that they are very active physically, this is part of early childhood and very "normal". The state of the American family clearly seems to play a big factor single family homes, no father figure, etc.

Sterling Heights, MI

Dear FRONTLINE,

While I watched your program last night I was taken back to the days when my now grown children with ADHD were small and out of control.

The school system up here in Canada apparently is not as advanced as in the States. None of my 3 children were ever diagnosed due to intervention of teachers. I diagnosed my son from an article I read in the "Reader's Digest" magazine when he was 15 years old. I then used the yellow pages to find a doctor who specialized in ADHD, who would see him without a referral from our family doctor.

I was fortunate in my search and the doctor I found wasted no time in sending us on to a physiciatrist who specialized in children with ADHD. The results from my son taking Ritalin were DRAMATIC and IMMEDIATE. He went from straight D's to the honour roll within 3 mos. My two daughters were both on their own by that time and failing at college. My oldest daugher never did anything about her ADD and is still struggling with her life. My middle girl went for help and is presently in college on the Dean's list. Certainly the question to medicate your child is a very personal difficult decision.

I just wish that I had been given the choice when my children were young enough to have made a difference in their school lives. They all suffered greatly at the hands of their peers, teachers and society in general. I suffered with them when they were not invited to birthday parties or sleepovers....

. To those people who spout off about "no such thing" as ADHD, I say, "walk a block in the shoes of parents of these children, then come back and we can discuss your opinion". Neither of my children exhibited any changes in personality from medication, they are the same people they were before - just able to concentrate and focus.

Karen McAnaul
COPPER CLIFF, Ontario, Canada

Dear FRONTLINE,

As an adult in my forties who has now been on Ritilan for the last five years I thank God every day for a doctor who could finally diagnose and treat my ADD not ADHD. Not only do I feel like I've been given a new life but my wife and children feel we have been given a new life together.

Ritilan alone has not and would not be sufficient. I have had to learn and re-learn a great deal of strategies for coping with the demands of living with ADD. But it is a joy to be able to focus and be more productive than I have ever been before.

I can only wish that when I was in school that there had been an awareness of Attention Deficit Disorders and the medication and strategies to treat them. It would have made such a difference.

Two of my children have ADD. The one especially is helped by Ritilan. With out it I doubt she would be graduating College Magna and going to grad school.

However, that does not mean that there is not an "ADD chic" in the culture and that it may be over diagnosed or misdiagnosed. Also it may be mistreated or undertreated. My daughter tells me that her friends in school that have only received medication and not counseling and training/coaching do not do as well as those who have. She calls it "hit and run Ritilan".

But just because there are problems in the system doesn't mean we should throw everything out that we know and use today. I will now live in fear of the day when I will no longer be able to get Ritilan because some Scientology front group decided I don't need it.

Shawnee , Kansas

Dear FRONTLINE,

If you had characterized the disorder as neurological

problem rather than a psychological one you would have

been more accurate and reduced the controversial

level of the discussion.

As a neurologist without

any drug company contacts, it is really very clear

that the first two children had ADD and the last two

had more complicated problems. Very straight forward

for an experienced neurologist. Children with ADD

benefit from stimulants others syndromes may or may

not. These drugs do not cure anyone,may not resolve

all the symptoms and are not trivial. They do improve

the quality of life of the children with ADD who

are most unhappy as well as disruptive.

Schoolteachers can help make the diagnosis but should

not be allowed distribute drugs, there are too many

children getting Ritalin because they disrupt the

classroom but do not have ADD.

Finally, in 35 years of practice I have never made

this diagnosis in an adult and I don't think I have

missed a case.

los angles, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

You failed to mention that some children who display "symptoms" of AD/HD in fact are found to be gifted instead. Many of the symptoms mentioned in the DSM are also seen in gifted individuals.

Research has shown that the brains of gifted individuals have more and complex connections, which enables them to process more stimuli faster. They literally can have "racing minds". This mental restlessness may also carry over into physical restlessness in some!

Linda Kreger Silverman of the Gifted Child Development Center in Denver made note of the fact that many more gifted kids she presently tests also show signs of AD/HD and have sensory motor problems. She wonders if there could be a possible correlation between those conditions and the increase in use of large doses of Pitocin during the delivery of these children.It would be interesting to find out!

I agree that medication can be beneficial for some children, but too often schools do not adapt to the special needs of disruptive or non-conforming children, including those who are identified gifted!

Conny Jensen
Greeley, Colorado

Dear FRONTLINE,

Frontline, If it had not been for the psychologist, the psychiatrist, our family physician and me, my son would probably not be alive today. My son was not referred by his teachers or anyone else. I was the one that approached his teachers about his trouble in school with concentrating and completing homework based on things that he would say to me.

I tried in elementary and junior high to seek testing for him to find out if he had a learning disorder such as dyslexia or something else. I also suspected ADD. All through my sons school years I watched and waited , watched as his self esteem and his grades plummeted. Here was a very bright boy, failing. Becoming introverted and silent.

I thank GOD every day that my son and I can bond together so well because it was in his junior year of high school that one evening he admitted to me that he had been having suicidal thoughts and not only once or twice but several times. At this, it was time to take action! I approached the school psychologist with my sons admission, referral to a psychologist were made, the psychologist referred to psychiatrist, testing was scheduled along with therapy as well as involvement with our family physician with the psychiatrists recomdation that wellbutrin along with adderall be started.

My son was diagnosed with ADD but the type of ADD that makes him laid back and not hyperactive so people percieve him as being lazy and slothful and I actually had a teacher in junior high call my son lazy to my face. After my son was placed on medication his quality of life vastly improved. I had my delightful, wonderful son back.

Those people that follow scientology beliefs have no idea of what they are talking about and I for one am glad that these drugs are available for children whose lives are affected by ADD/ADHD. But as I said before NO ONE IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEM LABELED MY SON, I did and I am a nurse.

Judy Herrick
Mason, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

Our family's story is about our daughter Sarah. She is now 8. She was always very busy. In pre-school she was known as "The Blurr". In kindergarten her teacher thought of her as bright and busy.

Then, in 1st grade Sarah's inattentiveness, constant motion and impulsivity was isolating her from other kids who didn't want to play or be friends with her because she is so different.. She couldn't finish most of her work and her writing was illegible. She was emotionally fragile, crying and crushed by every little failure.

Then I read an article about ADHD in a magazine- It was if the person knew my daughter! I mentioned it to Sarah's pediatrician and Sarah was sent to a child psychologist for evaluation. Meanwhile, I started researching ADHD on the web. It was an overwhelming experience. I looked at so many articles that contradicted each other. The drug companies versus anti-drug activists.

If I allow Sarah on Ritalin, her life would be improved but possibly dangerous. If I tried everything else such as the Feingold diet and alternative therapy I would avoid side effects with limited results. We eventually had to try the ritalin. The stress of dealing with a behaviorally challenged child and wondering what my husband and me were doing to cause her to be this way bad parenting? caused unbelievable stress and eventually I fell into a deep depression for 2 years. Fueled by the guilt that if I were a really good mom I wouldn't drug my kid, I really sank deep. I finally got some help but it will never be easy.

My reply to the anti-drug people is this- walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me and my decision for my child. It is a constant struggle with our beloved daughter, and we know that it won't ever be easy. But we love her enough to never give up trying.

Denice Brown
Detroit, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am very dissappointed with your investigation of ADD, ADHD. Your program didn't mention the many assumptions about the validity of the public school system, the notion of "success" in this society, and the many myths that urge our members to conform to a system that may be completely thwarting of our unique abilities and talents.

Except for Montessori preschool, my daughter's experience in school was one of continuous decline. Finally, in 1994, after the seventh grade, and at the recommendation of the school guidance councelor, she was evaluated by a child psychologist. He told me that she was ADD, depressed, and possibly manic-depressed. He wanted her to be put on Ritilin, Prosac, and Lithium to start, and probably a few others to manage the side effects. This man is still practicing.

My daughter was never put on drugs and is now 19. Since the time of her "diagnosis" she has attended school a private school for only 1 1/2 years. Most of what she has learned has been self directed. Last year she scored 1400 on her SATs. She has never been hyperactive, she has exceptional poise and social skills, and she is extremely creative.

I did not see anything on your program about the thousands of children that are drugged to fit, to be "successful" in school because they have any sort of difference. High intelligence, creativity, sensitive dispositions...are considered distracting qualities in a classroom as well as hyperactivity.

The school system we have for educationg our young in this society is not a natural, encouraging, instructive environment for many, perhaps most children.

Is it right to use chemicals to dumb down, slow down, draw in characteristics of personality, learning style, and intelligence in order to force children to conform to the narrow range of expected performance presented in school? Are we so happy with our institutional methods of perpetuating mediocrity that we are willing to believe that the natural state of the child needs fixing in order to be "successful" in this social experiment?

Should we have a culture of one type of person, the type that is content to sit in a desk, wait in line, and learn to silently didtance himself while bored. Are the children all to become either teachers, doctors, or loyal corporate employees?

I am not a Scientologist. My daughter did not self-medicate without the intrusion of ordained drugs. Perhaps some of the restlessness displayed by many children is a natural response to an unnatural environment.

Pamela Pearce
Bellingham, Washington

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your show was EXCELLENT! I believe this particular Frontline could have been longer. There is so much information, pro and con, on this topic.

My child has been medicated for ADHD since kindergarten. It has been very hard finding the right combination of meds. And the doctors - have gone through ALL in our area. All "gave up", and recommended others. Now we are seeing a wonderful psychiatrist. I still don't think the meds are quite right. And don't let anyone think that it is easy for me to medicate my, now, 11 year old son!!! I hate it!

I read the expert answers to the PBS questions posted in this web site. The one doctor who, basically, wrote that children's problems can be cured by "better parenting, parochial and private schools" is so very wrong. I've known about the hyperactive condition of my child since he was 4 months old. Knowing this I tried to help him without medicating.

I am such a "bad" parent that I enrolled him for kindergarten in the closest private school to our home, a 45 minute drive one way. I sent him to classrooms with 13 children to one teacher, compared to the local public school with 25 to 1 ratio. Within 2 months his teacher called me at home to tell me she thought he had ADHD and should be seeing a doctor, or on some kind of meds.

So we began seeing doctors and taking meds. In the meantime all the usual methods of "good" parenting were tried - spanking, time outs, restriction, rewards, punishments, charts, psycholgists, etc. At his Christmas party in the middle of 2nd grade he was expelled! The private school said the teacher had to spend too much time individually with my son, and there just wasn't anything more the school could do to help him! I have since learned, from MANY sources that it is very common to find children with ADHD who have been expelled from one private school or another. They don't have to keep our children - are much less tolerant, because they don't have to be.

At the doctor's recommendation we home schooled him the rest of the year, trying to get better results from meds. We are not wealthy people, but because we love our son we did all this.

Would the doctor in your discussion call this bad parenting? My son was one lonely, sad little boy, until he was able to get back to a regular classroom. I wish the best to the parents of the 3 year old on your program. I would be quite interested to see how he is doing in another year or two. God bless he and his parents, as their "adventure" is just beginning.

Kathleen Henry
Oxford, Ms

Dear FRONTLINE,

The show was informative about the pressures put on doctors by the drug companies to write these prescriptions. It makes more sense to me now why millions of kids are on these drugs.

The drug companies are prohibited from marketing narcotics directly to the public so they use marketing strategies such as balloon rides and weekend get-aways to "recruit" doctors and then the doctors market the drug to other doctors. They also use support groups like CHADD to get their message accross. Anyone who fails to see the conflict of interest hasn't done their homework.

I was upset that Frontline failed to address the long term effects of the drugs. I think Shire admits to only 12 psychotic episodes from the use of Adderall, however, my step-son had a psychotic episode which I am sure was never reported to Shire. I have heard from other parents about their children having psychotic episodes as well.

The information I obtained from Shire warning about side effects, addiction and toxic reactions from Adderall was scary enough, but knowing that the doctors some of them don't report these horrible experiences is horrifying!!!

Children CANNOT physically take these drugs the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, they are taught that it "isn't their fault, they have something wrong with their brain, they have a chemical imbalance what chemical, ritalin?". What is going to happen when the next generation grows up? They haven't learned to adjust and take responsibility.

I hope the little girl who was in gymnastics in the story has no hopes of making it to the olympics. She wouldn't qualify taking drugs.

Christine King
Austin, TX

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