Living in an upside-down world
Reprinted from Pure Facts March 2001, Vol. 25, No. 2

How do you cope in a world where many things don't make sense? Lewis Carroll created such a place, and called it "Wonderland." Here in the United States we may not have Mad Hatter tea parties and disappearing cats, but much of what is happening doesn't make sense.

  • People eat peculiar chemicals and call them "food." Those who eat real food are said to be on a special diet.

  • Doctors are taught to "first do no harm" then are punished for recommending a risk-free diet before drugs.

  • Inside the classroom students learn about the food pyramid and in the hallways outside they are greeted by vending machines selling the least nutritious things available.

  • Students cannot get permission to conduct a science fair experiment giving additive-laden foods to mice (it was considered inhumane) but are served this food in their school cafeteria.

  • The same amphetamines that were banned from adult use as diet drugs in the 1970s are being given to young children.

  • Stimulants not recommended for children under age 6 have been prescribed for 1 year-olds.

    On the Lighter Side

    In his year end summary, the irreverent humor columnist Dave Barry, wrote:

    "In medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that it has finally tracked down 7-year-old Matthew Parmogaster, believed to be the only remaining boy in the United States not being treated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A team of camouflage-wearing doctors was able to creep close enough to the youngster to bring him down with Ritalin-tipped blowguns."

  • Studies show no long term benefits — socially or academically — in using stimulant drugs for children, yet their use continues to accelerate.

  • Millions of dollars are spent on fighting illegal drugs, but the National Institutes of Health has earmarked $6 million to study the use of Ritalin on young children. (Is this ethical? Why is the money coming from taxpayers, not from the company that has profited from the sale of the product?) Why isn't any taxpayer money being used to study risk-free alternatives, as was recommended by the 1998 National Institutes of Health conference on ADHD?

Medicines of all kinds, including stimulant drugs, can be of great value. But most have a down side, and this is not given sufficient consideration. Of all the troubling issues this raises, one deserves special consideration. Some older children and adults have reported that stimulants change their personality; they don't feel like themselves. These people are able to verbalize this because they have had some years of experiencing life without medicine. But what happens when a very young child is placed on such a substance? How can the child know what it feels like to "be himself?" For a toddler who is still in the process of developing his brain, let alone his personality, how can the adults who care for him identify such a change?

Editor's Note: The problem is not that stimulant drugs are used to treat children with learning and behavior problems, but that a different standard is being applied to one segment of health care. Does it make sense to give the same powerful drug to millions of children, without attempting to identify the cause(s) of their problems?

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