Colorado Discourages ADHD Drugs
Educators Buck Treatment Trend
By Jillian Lloyd
The Christian Science Monitor
D E N V E R — Colorado’s education
board is now urging schools to rely more on effective classroom discipline
— and less on medication — for unruly kids, and the move has catapulted
the state to the forefront of an intense debate over the use of behavioral
drugs for school-age children.
The statement was prompted by news that student gunmen in
several mass school shootings were taking psychiatric drugs — and it marks
the first time a government body has officially registered concern about
the growing prevalence of such prescriptions among U.S. youths.
Not surprising, the decision by the Colorado Board of
Education has sent shock waves through the medical community. To many, the
move seems a desperate attempt to explain the recent rash of school
violence, based more in hysteria than common sense.
To board members and their supporters, however, the
one-page document represents a shift in attitude toward drugs such as
Ritalin, Prozac, and Luvox — and a new unwillingness to put schools in the
position of influencing parents to educate hard-to-control kids.
Influenced by School
They also acknowledge that the recent spate of school shootings
influenced the decision. One of the Columbine High School gunmen had been
taking Luvox, and student shooters in Springfield, Ore., Jonesboro, Ark.,
Pearl, Miss., Paducah, Ky., and Conyers, Ga., were reported to have been
on that or other drugs.
“People are on pins and needles about this,” says William Moloney,
state commissioner of education. “We don't know if there's a link to
school violence. But we're taking the radical step of saying that maybe
someone might want to look at this.”
Such medications have become a part of daily life for an estimated 6
million American schoolchildren. Most often, the drugs are administered
when a child is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The American Medical Association considers ADHD a legitimate disorder that
can be treated effectively with medication.
But critics assert that ADHD is at best overdiagnosed and, at worst,
The primary treatment for ADHD, Ritalin, has been administered to
America's youths for 50 years, but its use has tripled in the past five
Meanwhile, a recent study at the Michigan State University in East
Lansing revealed that both Ritalin and Prozac were being prescribed to
toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3. And a study in New York found that
boys of color are 11 times more likely to be on medication than is the
general student body.
Against this backdrop, many parents complain schools pressure them to
medicate their children for disruptive behavior, and some are applauding
Colorado's resolution, a nonbinding measure with no legal effect.
“Educators see Ritalin as something that's going to make their lives
easier, rather than making modifications in their classroom,” says one
Colorado parent, who requested anonymity. “The problem is that the drug
robs these kids of their personality. They become these quiet little
Putting less pressure on parents to choose drugs was a key rationale in
Colorado's decision. “Our intent is to give parents the authority, with
their medical doctor, to make decisions and not be pressured by any school
official to put their child on [Ritalin],” says Patti Johnson, an
education board member.
Schools See a ‘Duty’
But many in the mental-health community believe schools and teachers
have a responsibility to alert parents to problems.
“Teachers are often the first to see these problems,” says Jeanne
Mueller Rohner of the Mental Health Association of Colorado. Just as
teachers should alert parents if a child is having a vision problem, they
should be urged to mention potential mental-health problems, she says.
“This will be detrimental to the children of Colorado. We need more
mental-health care, not less,” says Ms. Rohner, who expects the
association to petition the board to rescind its resolution.
Meanwhile, Colorado lawmakers are also scrutinizing the issue. Last
week, in a hearing organized by state Rep. Penn Pfiffner, they heard
testimony from national crusaders such as psychiatrist Peter Breggin,
author of “Toxic Psychiatry.” He testified that drugs like Luvox and
Ritalin produce violent behavior in some 4 percent of users.
“If we're going to spend the next six months discussing ways to prevent
violence, like installing metal detectors in schools, and we overlook what
might be an underlying cause, then we have been irresponsible,” says Mr.
Pfiffner, a Republican.
One concern, say critics of the Colorado resolution, is that people
will hold the drug responsible for the child's actions. “If you have
serious psychiatric problems, you already are at risk for this type of
behavior,” says Matthew Cohen, president of Children and Adults with
Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder in Landover, Md. “The medication
doesn't produce the violence. The more accurate thing to say is that the
medication was insufficient to prevent it.” Ritalin and other such
medications continue to have supporters on the front lines of dealing with
“I’ve seen the results [of Ritalin] with thousands of kids,” says Edith
Feldman, a child psychologist employed by the Board of Cooperative
Education Services in Nassau County, N.Y. “They're able to focus, to
learn, to get along with others, and they feel better about themselves.”
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