ADHD Drug Use In Kids Cause For Concern

Media Release 21 May 2012
Family First NZ is alarmed at the number of children being prescribed drugs for hyperactivity and says that better diagnosis with second opinions and treatment of underlying problems should be the highest priority.

“The prescriptions for ADHD drugs have almost doubled in the past decade to a rate where more than 1 in 10 of our children are bring given drugs for their behavior. But we may be just drugging kids up to mask the real issues of the effects of food additives, sleep deprivation, family breakdown and stress, lack of discipline, and under-stimulation for bright children,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“Doctors are under pressure for a quick fix when counselling, better diet, firm discipline and a decent sleep pattern would be better. We are aware of children being sent to doctors where the likelihood of a prognosis of ADHD is most likely. And teachers are putting pressure on pupils or their parents to seek the medication as funding for more expensive solutions are cut.”

“Research is showing that Ritalin use is only a ‘band aid’ and may actually be harmful in the long term. A Study published in American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Journal showed that children treated with Ritalin improved their behaviour in the short term but with no lasting effects,” says Mr McCoskrie.

A 2009 Australian report from the Therapeutic Goods Administration showed at least 30 children have had severe psychotic episodes and wanted to kill themselves. Serious reactions to ADHD drugs have doubled in three years, up to 827. But the report said that the true extent of the side effects was unknown, with many doctors and parents were believed to be under-reporting.

An influential 2007 US study from the University of Buffalo also suggested long-term use of the drugs could stunt children’s growth, and that the benefits of drugs had previously been exaggerated. And a Michigan State University study published in the Journal of Health Economics found that misdiagnosis can have long-lasting effects including headaches, dizziness, and high blood pressure. The NZ Ministry of Health expressed concerns in 2010 over links to heart, brain and psychiatric disorders.

“Some experts have said that rather than drugging children, perhaps we need to give parents a good dose of parenting. Maybe all we’re doing is drugging up naughty kids rather than dealing with the reasons why they’re naughty in the first place,” says Mr McCoskrie.

While acknowledging that there are genuine cases of ADHD requiring medication, Family First believes medication should be a last resort and that at least two doctors should be consulted before any child is prescribed stimulant drugs.


12 comments for “ADHD Drug Use In Kids Cause For Concern

  1. 22 May 2012 at 3:04 pm

    The question has to be asked if there is a connection with Mothers drinking alcohol when pregnant and ADHD children? I intend writing to Prof. Dr. Doug Sellman (Otago University School of Medicine)to see if a study of this has ever been made.

  2. Vicki Duffy
    22 May 2012 at 4:02 pm

    As a parent of a child (now teenager) with ADD i.e Attention Deficit Disorder (meaning a real physiological inability to concentrate, a deficit in attention) it concerns me whenever this topic comes up, especially when the finger is pointed at a lack of good parenting. We need firstly to understand that there are 2 forms of ADHD, with hyperactivity and without hyperactivity, 2 quite different behaviour and learning difficulty sets. The ADD child can often be quite placid, a “dreamer” if you like and medication is not used to tone down hyperactive behaviour but to regulate actual physiological discrepancies between different areas of the brain. To put it simply the frontal area of the brain responsible for concentration processes information more slowly than the rest of the brain. the sensory input becomes an overload and the child switches off as they are over stimulated by the amount of information coming in and distracted by things around them. The medication works by speeding up this part of the brain so that everything is in sync, the brain can process all the information coming in and the child is able to concentrate on the task at hand. We have only ever given our son medication for school days where he is dealing with long periods of concentrated effort.He doesn’t need it for sport or holidays. In fact he says his ADD helps him with sport as he is very good at anticipating play. Another facet of ADD and ADHD is that there is a tendency to be impulsive and not think about consequences, this is not controlled by the medication, I am not even sure that hyperactive behaviour is I think it just gets everything in sync as I explained and lets the brain get on with it which means that some of the difficult behaviours are moderated(i.e. The child who can’t concentrate is switched off so goes and annoys someone else or can’t sit still in their seat, the sort of behaviour that we generally associate with ADHD). Why is it that we are totally accepting of the needs for medications that help with other brain disorders such as epilepsy or depression but when it comes to ADHD we say they are “drugged”? My husband is on warfarin every day for his heart no one says he is drugged!! There are also potential side effects for all medications.
    Yes Bob you did say in the above article that you recognise that there are some “genuine” cases but you still chose to use emotive words and point the finger at parents. Seems odd to me when on the other hand a lot of the work you do is promoting the right of “good parents” to make “good choices” about their children including discipline which I fully support.
    Please walk in my shoes, it took years of assessments, trying different support programs, tutors etc before we were willing to accept the fact that the gap between what our son was capable of and what he was achieving continued to widen as he fell behind his peers.Only then were we prepared to try medication, not an easy decision for a parent to make and it grieves me that people are so quick to judge. Please be more sensitive in the choice of words you use and don’t be so quick to judge. This is biblical so I don’t need to quote it.
    My son learnt the hard way when he shared with a friend that he took medication to help him concentrate, “you’re a freak, a wierdo” the friend replied. Lets not perpetuate misunderstandings about
    ADHD and especially let’s not condemn good parents who are trying to do the best for their children.
    Point the finger instead at a the government and systems that don’t support our children’s individual needs. My son is also dyslexic which often goes hand in hand with ADHD and there is very little support in the school system. Improving slowly since the ministry have recognised that it exists but teachers are still not well trained to deal with different learning needs. A further note is that ADHD has hereditary links, my husband has it, his father had it.It is not something that can be ‘cured’, “better diet, firm discipline and a decent sleep pattern” to quote Bob are a prescription for all children not a fix for the ADHD child. We can however help our kids to cope within the school system and nuture them to find the things that excite and motivate them and will become their life passion. There are some positives to having ADHD, many will tell you that they have an ability to think outside the square and are creative problem solvers. I didn’t intend to write an essay but my son and others like him and the parents doing their best to be good advocates for them deserve my support.

  3. Bob
    22 May 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks for your honesty. There was no intention to “use emotive words and point the finger at parents”

    We are simply raising the medical concerns about the drug. We also acknowledge the validity of the drug and ADHD for children like yours

    BUT there are many children ‘diagnosed’ with ADHD who simply don’t have ADHD – and I speak from experience having worked with many families in schools in South Auckland. In virtually every case, the families had been referred to a particular doctor in East Auckland who -surprise surprise – diagnosed ADHD and prescribed Ritalin. And in a one hour assessment.

    So that is obviously completely different from your circumstances.

  4. Kellie
    22 May 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Unfortunately when the topic of ADHD comes up in the media, a whole lot of uninformed and uneducated opinions are given, mostly by those who have never had any contact with with ADHD.

    Children are not “drugged” but are medicated, in the same way that a child with epilepsy, diabetes,asthma and so on is. Once the correct brand and dosage for a particular child is worked out, you would never know that a child is infact taking medication. Most adhd experts say that medication is by far the most effective treatment for it, used in conjunction with other behaviour modification methods. For some kids (and adults) the medication for ADHD (and ADD) can be as life saving as for those who need medication for other life threatening issues. Whilst ADHD can’t kill you, the effects of not being able to learn, to have any friends, to be able to learn self-control and self-discipline, to hold down a job, etc can be soul-destroying. Not to mention the effect that the disorder can have on the rest of the family.

    As for possible side-efects on a child – for most children, there are very few. The worst being perhaps a lack of appetite or sleep problems. Some of your research is outdated. For ex. most experts no longer believe that growth is stunted. And psychotic episodes are very rare.

    Is it possible that issues such as adhd haven’t been over-diagnosed today, but that they’ve been under-diagnosed in the past? How many adults today who failed in school, might have had a totally different experience if a learning issue had been diagnosed when they were still children? It’s only been in the last few decades, that we’ve been more aware that there could be a reason behind bad behaviour and failure in schools. It’s a shame if those kids in sth Auckland that you’ve worked with have infact been mis-diagnosed with adhd, but it’s great that in today’s world, those behavioural/learning problems are at least being picked up and that someone is trying to help those kids.

    (As for those kids you mention being diagnosed with adhd after a 1hr appointment with a doctor – that’s probably not correct. A gp can’t diagnose adhd. Only a pediatrition can dignose and prescribe medication. A doctor would only refer a child to a Pediatrition)

  5. David Favel
    22 May 2012 at 7:00 pm

    On a side note, is there a large black market for Ritalin?
    I seem to remember it was used by druggies, but cannot recall what it was supposed to be a substite for.

  6. Colin Saunders
    22 May 2012 at 7:19 pm


    I concur with the above comments posted by another reader, this media sound bite, like others before, uses language that generates a response and doesn’t necessarily read balanced. I appreciate it can be difficult to get media attention but feel uncomfortable with the general tone.

    I can assure you that our families personal experience does not agree with the Family First assertions.

    In NZ children do have a second diagnosis and individual permission is required annually from the Govt authority for each confirmed diagnosis and ongoing scripts for these drugs.

    I would be keen to see NZ evidence of the claims made rather than US studies which don’t always apply here.

    I encourage you to make contact with GP Dr Tony Hanne in Howick Auckland, an acknowledged expert in NZ on ADHD and ADD, coincedentally also a great preacher!

    In addition the Auckland ADHD assoc. in Epsom will provide much useful material to answer some of the concerns raised.

    Be encouraged and keep up the good work!

  7. Bob
    22 May 2012 at 9:06 pm
  8. Martin Duffy
    22 May 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Hello All, bits of what everyone is saying is quite & correct & true. Those quick fixes ex sth Akld by East doctors in 1 hour Bob is disturbing…
    I miss my son when he is under the Ritalin. His character seems quiet, precise, polite, concentrated & on time! The teachers comment how well he is doing & seems settled. After school he grazes the fridge, drops the idea of homework, bit moody & withdrawn but comes right about clean teeth / go to bed time… My son is back! But.. i desperately want him to learn & retain his teachings. Over the years he is handling the “wear off” affects alot better. Took years of convincing us as parents to accept that our son had a “label” ..didn’t like that at all. I was hyperactive at school, got into some strife in the 60’s & that’s all my son is Martin says some of my non parent friends….Wrong. Hard decisions later and on Ritalin we are glad he has had the opportunity to have been able to concentrate during his study & teachings. We pray that he retains his education when he chooses to withdraw from this drug & leave school. We also did the old No Coke & No V’s etc. This did help a little..I took his Ritalin once by mistake! Got my drugs mixed up, in a hurry before work, didn’t concentrate..well i had all my work knocked over by 2.00pm, left the boss speechless during meetings, recalled the old brain not at all surprised to learn of black market dealings. I’ve chosen to continue with my self disciplines & comprehensive diary & colourful reminder notes & blackberry pop ups & office reminders. I’ve got this far now, that’s me no concentration enhancers for the old boy..but on the wisdom of hind sight, yep if i had the choice to concentrate more at school & the folks offered this option, i’d grab it. Medical Profession, keep it tight & well under control. Ministry Of Education, recognise these issues please, Parents, try the food & disciplines, do your own investigation but if you are about to embark down this track with the kids, keep the disciplines, follow up at school & the sports, never rest thinking that Ritalin is the sole answer & don’t go beating your self up. Martin.

  9. Bob
    23 May 2012 at 12:08 am

    Well said 🙂

  10. Paul
    23 May 2012 at 2:12 am

    Hi Bob,

    I agree with all the earlier comments and agree also that there are children who really need medication. BUT I am very concerned about children being put on medication because they are in the “too hard” basket to deal with and it is easier to give them medication rather than to deal with the underlying issue. An even bigger concern is with the increased class sizes being proposed this “quick-fix” medication problem might just get bigger. Especially if you consider the fact as mentioned that funding in other areas is being slashed.

  11. Barbara
    23 May 2012 at 3:44 am

    In NZ ADHD is diagnosed by a Specialist such as a Pediatrician or a Psychiatrist-these are not quick fix appointments-a full comprehensive psychiatric assessment or similar comprehensive assessment is completed, collaborative information is sought, and often includes psychological testing-many inclusion and exclusion criteria must be meet for a diagnosis-a special authority needs to be applied for and approved before a script can be written. All medication has side affects-everyone is different not everyone experiences side affects-the benefits of any medication must be weighed up against any side affects. A Specialist will monitor for a time and change medication/dose if required before discharging back to a GP to script and monitor. Every two years the special authority expires and a Specialist appointment with another full assessment is required to apply for another authority to script. A parent at any time can decline medication for their child, if a parent has concerns at anytime they are able to inform the Specialist or if under a GP inform the GP who can make a referral back to a Specialist. If there are any concerns with regards to diversion of ADHD medication this should be made known to the prescribing Doctor.

  12. Bob
    23 May 2012 at 3:30 pm

    If that’s how it was diagnosed, that would be good.

    But the anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise.

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