ADHD prescriptions have risen 46%: Big Pharma better at pushing its drugs?

The perception over the last two decades has unequivocally been—at least amongst medical professionals, pharmaceutical companies, teachers and parents—that children have grown ever more hyperactive and unable to pay attention. Or, at the very least, many millions of Americans are going undiagnosed every year. The recent FDA study into the 46% rise in ADHD prescription would seem to support this perception.

Psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies say it’s simply a matter of misfiring brain chemistry, not other factors such as bad parenting (no basic rules or punishment), occasional bad teachers, learning that is standardized and non-dynamic, and an emphasis on conformity instead of encouraging kids to just be themselves. However, the genetic and chemical misfiring (of dopamine) theory hasn’t been scientifically proven. ADHD’s causes are unknown, but the medical-industrial complex very clearly places the disorder’s cause on brain chemistry, which is often genetic (they say).

As Peter Breggin, author of “Talking Back to Ritalin,” said, “people are so eager nowadays for biological explanations. So physicians and the public grabbed on to what is essentially a PR campaign—perhaps the most successful one in the last 30 years in the Western industrialized nations—that if you have a mental disturbance, it’s biochemical.”

Instead of recognizing that a child wants very much to express him or herself, sometimes too enthusiastically, and then attempting to form that energy in a productive way, kids are sent to the office and eventually prescribed Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta to make nice, calm zombie cattle.

I know a kid who struggles with grades but you get the boy outside of a classroom and he’s an intellectual sponge—aware of everything and constantly fixating on the details and information around him. He’s always been that way. Well, he’s on drugs and still struggling to concentrate. One has to wonder if the drugs are actually working, and if the boy simply needs to learn in a different way.

The creator of ADD himself, Dr Robert Spitzer, stated in 2007 that up to 30% of youngsters are misdiagnosed with the disorder. And here is a man who has the most to gain from the ubiquity of ADD and ADHD diagnoses in our culture, in the way of professional renown and, of course, financially. (Keep in mind, too, that Spitzer also once believed he could “cure” homosexuals of their disorder.) If the man who created ADD/ADHD puts the misdiagnosis figure as high as 30%, could it be even higher? With research into the disorder paid for by pharmaceutical companies, it would not be to researchers’ advantage to declare an even higher rate of misdiagnosis. Funding would simply evaporate and get deposited in more friendly environs.

As a former child and student who could get good grades without a lot of study, I relieved the tedium and boredom of education—a relentless seven and a half hours of social control and structure—by joining my friends and other classmates in the occasional chatter, mayhem, pranksterism and hyperactivity. It made it all tolerable. Most adults will tell you that they more or less did the same. My mind often wondered in school. Like other students, I wanted to be anywhere but in that stifling classroom. Great teachers helped alleviate this impulse, but bad teachers exacerbated it.

At home, my parents established ground rules, which I respected, opting instead to pour my imagination into stories, sport, art and outdoor activities. Having recently seen videos of myself at a young age, I wonder now if I might have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Certainly, I acted quite a lot like current elementary, middle and high school kids with ADHD.

The FDA study into the 46% rise in ADHD prescriptions fails to consider that pharmaceutical companies might have only gotten better at selling their drugs, to say nothing of the psychiatric field constantly working to sell mental diseases.

If the frequency of diagnoses decreases, big pharma’s fortunes decrease along with it; psychiatrists have fewer patients and income; and teachers and school administrators have to account for their inability to connect with students. They, like parents, have more work to do if they’re not stunning students with drugs. Laziness and the desire for profit are great motivators to sell ADHD medication. For teachers and parents, such drugs’ prevalence is America’s convenience culture bleeding over into raising and educating the next generation of America’s conformist worker drones. It is Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” made flesh.

PBS’s Frontline did a series of interviews several years ago on the ADHD market and research called “The Business of ADHD.” There were a diversity of opinions on the subject, but there was a consensus that pharmaceutical companies (as private entities) had an advantage in that they were able to strategize and market their product, especially on TV and in print, which alternative ADHD therapies could not do. The industry could convince parents and educators that ADHC medication was necessary for a well-functioning young member of society. And more recently big pharma has targeted ADHD at the adult market because, well, if the child market has been so lucrative, why not not have the kids hooked for life and find some fresh adult users?

The worry shouldn’t only be about ADHD’s side effects, although they do exist, but that there big corporations which are in the business of expanding the ADHD prescription drug market. Their concern is profit. Many parents will consider such medication on the recommendation of a teacher, or because they’ve seen an ad in a magazine or on television. It’s like any other product: advertise and a greater awareness is created which often leads to greater profit.

According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention(CDC), 3-7% of the US school age population is on ADHD drugs. Let’s look at the low end of that range—3%, which is approximately 1,590,000 kids. On the lowest dosage, which costs $15 per month, approximately $286,200,000 would be generated by the pharmaceutical industry. On the highest dosage at $196 per month, $373,968,000 would be generated. Double those profits and then some to account for the higher figure of 7% of student age population on ADHD medication.

The rise in adult ADHD prescriptions presents yet another lucrative avenue of profit. The adult US population lies roughly at 254 million people (there are approximately 312,000,000 Americans total). If 3%-7% of the adult population were prescribed ADHD medication (like school age children), or about 7,620,000 Americans—using Ritalin prescription costs as a model—that would yield about $1.37 billion at the lowest strength of the drug and $1.79 billion at the highest strength. That is a lot of money that the pharmaceutical industry would be generating in aggregate. Again, double those figures and then some to arrive at the 7% threshold.Of course, this is only US sales—it doesn’t account for any international sales of ADHD drugs. And remember, the psychiatric and pharmaceutical industry are firm believers that many Americans go about life undiagnosed. That means the market can keep growing both domestically and internationally.

Humanity got along quite well for hundreds of thousands of years without the constant barrage of mental diseases and cures. Maybe some people can be helped, but with a 46% rise in ADHD prescriptions, it seems fairly clear that the business of ADHD is doing quite well.

Like the average drug dealer, the pharmaceutical industry really only has one business plan at its disposal: convincing old and new customers that they need it.

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