The Ritalin Report: The Drug that isnít Safe to use for Landfill (Part Four)

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

1. Whenever I write about Ritalin I am inundated with letters, faxes and emails from parents, teachers and social workers insisting that Ritalin is `very safe'. I suspect these optimistic folk must either be unable to read or too lazy to do any research into the safety of a product which they are recommending with such enthusiasm. Years of experience mean that I am not in the slightest bit surprised to find such crass stupidity exhibited by social workers. I am, however, surprised to find so many school teachers showing such a potent mixture of ignorance and misplaced trust.

2. Sadly, it seems it is partly through the enthusiasm of teachers and social workers that Ritalin is now so widely prescribed. In theory, Ritalin should not be prescribed for any child unless a doctor has performed a thorough evaluation. However, despite this, when a team of researchers from the United Nationals International Narcotics Control Board examined the records of nearly 400 paediatricians who had prescribed Ritalin, they found that half the children who had been diagnosed as suffering from ADHD or some other similar disorder had not been given psychological or educational testing before being given the drug. The United Nations concluded that frustrated parents, teachers and doctors were too quick to stick a label of ADD onto children with behavioural problems (or, to be more accurate, to children whose behaviour was annoying the parents, teachers and doctors).

3. I am less than enthusiastic about this drug. In my view, the world would be a healthier place if all supplies of the damned stuff were wrapped in concrete and buried. I wouldn't prescribe Ritalin for anyone Ė for anything.

4. Other doctors clearly don't agree with me. Some observers have described Ritalin as a drug that can unlock a child's potential. And although estimates about the number of children taking Ritalin vary, it has been claimed that in the USA alone up to 12 % of all American boys aged between 6 and 14 are being prescribed Ritalin to treat various behavioural disorders. It is now not unknown for schools to arrange for children to be treated with Ritalin without obtaining parental permission. In some cases, boys have been given Ritalin because they ran around the playground making a noise. They ran around the playground making a noise for heaven's sake!

5. It is worth remembering that although doctors, parents and teachers have for over 40 years now been enthusiastically recommending the use of Ritalin (and similar drugs) there are still a number of unanswered questions.

6. I don't believe anyone definitely knows whether the drug works or whether it causes any permanent long-term damage. I don't believe anyone knows for certain whether the drug does more harm than good. And, perhaps most astonishing of all, despite the fact that millions of children have been diagnosed as suffering from ADHD or ADD, and treated with powerful drugs, I don't believe we even know whether any of these conditions really exist.

7. Back in 1970, the Committee on Government Operations of the U.S. House of Representatives studied the use of behaviour modification drugs on children. At that time, around 200,000 to 300,000 children a year in the U.S. were being given these drugs. The point was made that hyperactivity was considered a disease because it made it difficult for schools to be run `like maximum security prisons, for the comfort and the convenience of the teachers and administrators who work in them...'. Since then the only thing that has changed is that the popularity of Ritalin has continued to rise and rise and rise inexorably.

8. Prescribing Ritalin is, in my view, authorised child abuse on a massive, global scale. And, sadly, things aren't likely to change. When I wrote a paper expressing my doubts about Ritalin (a paper which encouraged several major newspapers to question the wisdom of prescribing this drug so widely) I received an avalanche of angry mail from furious parents, teachers and social workers. 'I'm not going to read your report,' wrote one father of a child on Ritalin. 'I know it's rubbish.' (If I had a child taking a prescription drug I would want to know all the available facts.)

9. Most worrying of all is the fact that parents who are reluctant to give their children Ritalin have been told that if they donít give in and cooperate, their children will be taken away from them. This will, of course, not be the first example of `compulsory medicationí. In some countries (notably parts of the USA), parents who do not have their children vaccinated are liable to arrest. And, of course, the fluoridation of drinking water is also common in many parts of the world.

End of The Ritalin Report

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