Shocking Increase in A.D.H.D. Diagnosis in the United States

Today the NY Times reported “Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

What is shocking to me, after decades of reading and following the controversies surrounding the A.D.H.D. diagnosis, is how little outrage there is among parents. The article reports there is a 53 percent increase in A.D.H.D. diagnosis in the past decade in the United States. Are other countries witnessing such a spike in A.D.H.D. diagnosis? Apparently not, but it depends on the definition a country uses for A.D.H.D., and since the United States is enacting a new, broader definition this year we are likely to continue to remain the world leader in A.D.H.D. drug consumption.
The heart of the critique has always been that A.D.H.D. is so amorphous (it’s definition has been a moving target over the decades) yet so easy to convince schools and parents of the need to dose children (a pill that makes your difficult child compliant and smarter!), as well as being very profitable for the pill manufacturers, that the disease is ripe for over-diagnosis. That fear was expressed as far back as 1975 in the book The Myth of the Hyperactive Child, and repeated by Dr Thomas Armstrong in 1995 (The Myth of the A.D.D. Child). This new report indicates that some key doctors today think so too, such as Harvard's Dr. Jerome Groopman (“There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal—if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk—that’s pathological, instead of just childhood.”), but apparently no one listens to them in the medical field. Big Phama’s ad campaigns for A.D.H.D. treatments, such as those that admonish parents to “Do everything you can do to help your child succeed,” are wildly successful. “Sales of stimulants to treat A.D.H.D. have more than doubled to $9 billion in 2012 from $4 billion in 2007,” according to the Times article.

The last word in the article is given to Dr. Ned Hallowell, who was a cheerleader for A.D.H.D. drugs. He has changed his mind about the safety of A.D.H.D. drugs since the diagnosis has become so common.

“I think now’s the time to call attention to the dangers that can be associated with making the diagnosis in a slipshod fashion,” he said. “That we have kids out there getting these drugs to use them as mental steroids — that’s dangerous, and I hate to think I have a hand in creating that problem.”