By On December 17th, 2013

How Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Was Sold To The U.S. Public

After more than 50 years, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD, remains a source of controversy. While the condition itself has largely been accepted as a real neurological condition, and public acceptance has quickly grown, questions have begun popping up about the rates of diagnosis for the condition. Many are skeptical of the prescription rates for drugs such as Adderall and Concerta.


Source: Flickr

While the general public has come to understand that ADHD is a legitimate disorder, many argue that pharmaceutical corporations have been conspiring to get these drugs in the hands of the most people possible, whether they suffer the condition or not.

Historically, ADHD has been estimated to affect 5 percent of children. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD diagnosis have been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, with an estimated 3.5 million children being prescribed medication for the disorder. That is a massive increase from the 600,000 in 1990.

The question is, how have we gotten to these numbers? Why are so many children being diagnosed with the condition? While the rise in public acceptance of the disorder could contribute to a rise in diagnosis rates, it would not explain why diagnosis rates have tripled the historical estimates.

Alan Schwarz from the New York Times recently investigated this question, and what he found is compelling. From questionable marketing decisions by the companies making medication aimed to help the sick, to doctors misrepresenting the risks of the pills, there is certainly reason to question the place of ADHD in our society.

The biggest problem is the knowledge that ADHD is an accepted neurological disorder. We have evidence it exists, but we also have a responsibility to be honest and focused on the nature of the disease and only diagnose those who show that the condition disrupts their day-to-day life or causes significant problems. When advertisers are depicting normal behavior such as childhood forgetfulness or poor grades for reason to medicate your child, it is important to use critical thinking. While those behaviors could potentially be signs of an underlying problem, they may also be signs of nothing but childhood.

ADHD is the second most common long-term diagnosis made in children, narrowly trailing asthma. If rates continue to grow, it will soon be number one. We have an epidemic on our hands, but is it the disorder or an epidemic of over-prescription and medication? Schwarz’s article raises some frightening questions.

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