By Nicholas Regush
Back in my newspaper days, I often would catch
reporters describing their editors as having the attention span of
a gnat. When I began work in TV, several producers quietly pointed
out correspondents and senior producers who were known to have the
attention span of a sand fly.
But to my knowledge, none of those
allegedly afflicted were required to take a drug to reverse their
This came to mind when I was in the thick of dissecting the
scientific literature on Ritalin, a drug reputed to calm
hyperactivity and help people pay attention to things. Its use is
extremely popular these days for schoolchildren who, for example,
have trouble sitting still, or difficulty keeping track of what they
are being taught.
In reviewing the data, I came across a study from Virginia showing
that up to 10 percent of children in second through fifth grades are
on medication to fight such problems, after being diagnosed with
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Being the
compassionate type, I naturally wondered whether tests would show
that at least 10 percent or even more of reporters and producers
in newsrooms where I have worked also should have been on Ritalin or
other brain drugs.
And should the scientific diagnostic drive extend into the
professions, perhaps tests would show that many more
psychiatrists, pediatricians and teachers have the attention span of
a gnat or sand fly and need to be advised of the fact.
Maybe many doctors have ADHD without the benefit of Ritalin and
therefore lack the attention span or patience to consider other
factors that may contribute to the behavior and demeanor of their
young patients such as how and where the children live, what they
eat, whether they are loved, and the consequences of being taught in
schools with curricula too underdeveloped to meet modern childhood
Am I being unkind to the Ritalin pushers? Yes, and I want to be.
This Ritalin sham must stop! It is far out of control.
While there are some children and some editors and producers
who obviously need major help in adjusting to our zany world,
there is far too much drugging going on. The drugging is the real
epidemic, not ADHD.
(A note to psychiatrists: Please read this paragraph carefully,
with close attention, so you wont waste time writing me nasty
e-mails about tragic cases of truly uncontrollable children. I
readily admit there are such cases.) I am most concerned that
the science on ADHD and related so-called illnesses is not very
compelling. Sure, studies are popping up all the time now, but most
Consider the latest, most publicized entry imaging the brain to
detect biochemical differences, a tool some claim could lead to a
test for ADHD. Watch out, because psychiatrists who may have the
attention span of a gnat are already proclaiming this foray into
brain imaging as a triumph in biological psychiatry.
It is nothing of the kind. We know too little of the brain and
its amazing interconnected elements to be so foolishly brash. We
also know too little of what much brain imaging really means, and we
are lacking gold standards for such testing.
What we essentially have here is an epidemic of dumb doctoring
and child abuse bordering on the criminal, sitting on a limited view
of human behavioral variability. Granted, there are children at the
extreme end of the continuum who need a variety of assistance not
necessarily drug-focused help. Meanwhile, there are probably
millions of kids unnecessarily on drugs, obtained not from pushers
in schoolyards but from pushers with medical degrees.
The Easy Way Out
Rather than stare social problems straight in the face and try to
determine why certain children are anxious, depressed, irritable or
noisy troublemakers, the tendency in this culture is to try to drug
the problems away.
What if the problem is simply that some of these kids have
minds, and spirits, of their own?
||Nicholas Regush produces medical features for
ABCNEWS. In his weekly column, published Wednesdays,
he looks at medical trouble spots, heralds innovative
achievements and analyzes health trends that may greatly
influence our lives. His latest book is The Breaking
Point: Understanding Your Potential for Violence;
go here to preview his new book,
The Virus Within: A Coming Epidemic.