The pharmaceutical model of medicine is completely dominant in America today. Of course, I am not oppossed to drug therapy and see the incredible value of modern medicine, especially in emergencies and serious infections. But the bottom line is that we are all seduced by the successes, and ignore the dark side. And that dark side, I am afraid to say, is very dark and pervasive.
I was inspired to write this blog by a program I heard on NPR about the abuse of adderral on college campuses. They use this drug, just as athletes use performance enhancing drugs, to improve study habits and test scores. Adderral is a drug prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder–ADHD– which in brief is a mixture of inattentiveness and overactivity, often diagnosed in young children who are having problems in school. Thousands of youngsters are now given adderral and similar drugs every day. The treatment does moderate their symptoms, and the drug therapy is widely accepted. Not an expert in ADHD or this kind of prescription drug I will offer my opinions, based on thirty years of clinical experience as a holistic counselor and acupuncturist. Because the subject is children I am highly concerned about this issue.
We are giving our young children what kind of drug??? Adderral and its family of medications like ritalin is an amphetamine! In college we called these speed and we would take them once in awhile during exam week, bought surreptiously from the local drug dealer who got them from a doctor or illegal lab. The college kids of today who down adderral with abandon get it from their friends who have extra pills from a doctors prescription! On the NPR program one expert said that up to 30 % of college students use adderral, and not just once in a while. There is little or no stigma in using these drugs, and not much concern about unknown long term effects. If these young adults wish to experiment with these drugs let them make their own choice. But should we be giving them to young children 7 or 8 years old, even if the dose is below recreational dosages? They do not have any say into what is going into their young maturing bodies.
I am a scientist in the sense that I like to experience things in life–as much as reasonably possible– before I make a judgement. I experimented with marijuana, speed and other recreational drugs in college–it was very common in the seventies. Speed was one drug I truly detested, took for one week during exams, and never took again. Here is what I experienced: rapid heart beat, sleeplessness, agitation, headaches, complete lack of appetite (therefore the questionable use in weight loss programs), anxiety and sweating. Granted I took them every day that terrible week, but still… We all looked down on this kind of drug, and really felt pity for those who we called speed freaks.
Did they discuss the side effects of these drugs on NPR? No, not really. Yes, that was disappointing, but one of the experts was a psychiatrist that never got to the most crucial question, and the interviewer never pushed it. What are the long term side effects of adderral and any other amphetamine-like drugs? That is for those who use them regularly for more than six months, perhaps some patients and students for years! The answer: no one knows. The drug companies have not seriously studied this crucial question. What would be the profit? Will the FDA help here? No, they have not and will not. The government is basically in side step with the drug companies: the profits are astronomical. America uses these drugs more than any other country in the WORLD.
A basic human and scientific question and there is no answer. Amphetamines are prescribed for all ages, but the deepest question: what about the young? There are many disturbing facts that stir up this issue even more, In Japan, for example, one cannot prescribe ampetamines. Some professionals, and I heartily agree, contend that ADHD is not a medical condition but a complex of problems that leads to behavioral disturbances that are very common and in some ways even natural. Would you expect a ten year old boy to sit quietly for seven hours at a desk, especially if he has a diet high in sugar, additives and protein and watches television or internet over ten hours a week? I could go on and on. Four last statements;
1) Of course, there are effective behavioral substitions, some that are being implemented. Therapy, coaching and family counseling are valued and used. There are also natural, herbal and holistic responses that work but are avoided largely because they are not profitable and they take work and time on the part of parents, patients and physicians. Furthermore, the herbal/nutritional approach does not fit in with the pharmaceutical model.
2) Do I recommend that parents or adults stop having these drugs prescribed? No. I only ask that they are given an honest account of the questions: side effects, long term use, and possible natural alternatives.
3) It is known that abuse or overdose of amphetamines causes rapid heart beat, possible heart attack, sweating, insomnia (cannot sleep), anxiety and restlessness, as well as twitching, tics, restless legs, and mood swings.
4) What does the venerable tradition of Oriental medicine say about these ampetamines? In the long run they overtax the liver, brain and kidneys. Should they be avoided for long term use? Absolutely. Would you poor water into your gas tank every day of the week? The tradition says that abuse of these drugs leds to premature aging, cognition problems, decreased sex drive, impotence, mood swings, anger, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts–from excessive long term use. The tradition would never consider the use of these drugs for children. As an acupuncturist and herbalist, part of a tradition that goes back two thousand years, I am disappointed by the medical profession and how its rolls over like a dog to the very big dollars. But one must also consider the suffering and needs of patients who bear the burden of symptoms of ADHD, and the doctors who sincerely want to help them. These drugs have helped many adults deal with inattentiveness, restlessness and other related symptoms. This I understand. But there are natural alternatives. These solutions, however, are not as easy as popping a pill: good nutrition, which includes less sugar, vigorous exercise, herbal medicines for relaxation and focus, acupuncture, yoga and other mind/body techiniques that thousands of ADHD sufferers have found to work.