How to Score Ritalin – Point of View with Barbara Sumner Burstyn
So the kids have wised up and following the US trend, have started dealing their Ritalin in the schoolyard. In New
Zealand Ritalin retails for around $5 a tablet while in the States the street value is considerably higher – the
equivalent of nearly NZ$ 20.00.
And just like in the States, where it’s estimated that six million kids are taking the mind-altering drug, New Zealand
police have become concerned that parents are pressuring doctors to prescribe Ritalin for their children. Not only as an
antidote to the annoyances of parenting but so they can sell it themselves on a growing black market.
So perhaps you’re also making the connection, wondering how your kid could present with ADHD to help with the family
It turns out its not that hard. New Zealand uses the DSM-IV, the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, to help diagnose
ADHD. In descending order your doctor is looking for at least eight of these fourteen things: A child who often fidgets
with hands or squirms in his seat, has difficulty remaining seated and is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli. He
needs to show difficulty waiting turn in group situations and he needs to often blurt out answers to questions before
they have been completed. He needs to sometimes have difficulty following through on instructions such as his chores or
homework and often have difficulty sustaining attention in activities, shifting from one incomplete activity to another.
He has to have difficulty playing quietly, he must talk excessively, interrupt or butt into other kids games, not seem
to listen to what is said, often losing things at school or home and of course he has to engage in physically dangerous
activities without considering possible consequences, like running into the street without looking.
Easy? You bet. Show me a kid that doesn’t present with at least half of these ‘symptoms’, especially before the age of
seven – which is the optimum time for diagnosis and he’ll be your oddity.
But if you think it’s difficult for a doctor accustomed to dealing in science to suddenly have to make a diagnosis based
on judgment alone imagine how hard it’s been for the scientists doing clinical research into the causes of ADHD, working
as they must, with mainly subjective data, cultural and individual perceptions, values and opinion. In fact, only last
year the Washington Post reported that they haven’t actually tested Ritalin on at least one group of children it's
routinely prescribed for, the under six year olds. Seems testing mind altering drugs on little kids was a just a little
But outside of Canada, the U.S.A, Australia and New Zealand very few doctors make the diagnosis at all. On the European
continent a drug for kids with side effects such as insomnia, decreased appetite, stomach-ache, headache and dizziness
is unacceptable. As far back as 1976 Shrag and Divorky, in their book, The Myth of the Hyperactive Child, traced the
origin of the diagnosis to advertising campaigns run by drug companies which manufacture cures for social problems.
More recently high profile American lawyer Richard Scruggs accused Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp., makers of the drug
Ritalin and the American Psychiatric Association of conspiring to promote an overly broad diagnosis of ADHD with the
result that it’s given to too many youngsters.
Despite this, Ritalin is fast becoming a widely accepted parenting tool, a medical substitute for that most precious
parental commodity; time. Canadian child psychologist and author of The Omnipotent Child Dr Thomas P. Millar says the behaviours on the ADHD checklist are no more symptoms than a rash, or a cough, or sore feet. “These behaviours
are common and normal in preschool children. In older children they are more appropriately called immaturities. Getting
over immaturity is called growing up.” He goes on to state the obvious, that it seems many parents have forgotten in
their rush to embrace the latest wonder drug. “Children grow up when they are parented properly, that is nurtured and
trained in a fashion appropriate for their temperament.”
But perhaps the scariest part of the Ritalin epidemic (as if there could be anything scarier than parental abdication of
parenting) is the increasing pressure schools are putting parents under. All the behaviours on the checklist are
guaranteed to irritate even the most patient teacher but a child on Ritalin becomes submissive, passive and socially
inhibited. Perfect schoolroom material. So much so that earlier this year a New York State judge ordered parents to
resume giving their seven year old son Ritalin after they’d stopped dosing him, fearing it was harming him. Their school
board reported them to the Department of Social Services, which filed child abuse charges for medical neglect. To avoid
having their son removed from them the couple reinstated his court ordered doping.
Not even the largest advocate group set up to protect suffers of this supposed illness is immune. Recently it was
revealed that Children and Adults with ADHD received more than a million dollars in funding from the makers of Ritalin.
But last week, the group, vocal promoters of Ritalin, did a dramatic about face. They agreed with the National Institute
of Mental Health that many doctors are misdiagnosing kids with ADHD and turning hospitals and clinics into pill mills.
In New Zealand Ritalin prescriptions are running at an all time high. 72,186 prescriptions were written to March this
year up from 49,811 in 2000. So it’s clear that in this trend at least we’re not lagging behind the US. Now if we can
just get the street price up a bit more we might even have a nice black market earner for parents as well.
Copyright October 2002 Barbara Sumner Burstyn.