Last week, the Huffington Post published an article online called “Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You: Adderall Abuse.” It’s quite a bold title, but the article itself is not as exciting. It attempts to convince its audience that prescription stimulants, which are used commonly to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are the next biggest threat to public health.
The author is Lawrence Diller, M.D., a pediatrician known for his provocative 1998 book “Running on Ritalin,” which critiqued the explosive rates of prescribed stimulants in the U.S. Though Diller clearly has the authority to deliver an informed opinion on this complex and controversial issue, his bias shines bright in his article about Adderall and other prescription stimulants, which he affectionately refers to as “legal speed.”
Diller’s article represents a broader collection of viewpoints that unfairly (and sometimes falsely) preach the dangers of prescription stimulants while refuting the benefits. Based on all of the research we have regarding stimulants and ADHD, there is nothing that indicates outlawing medications like Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta is necessary. Still, Diller and others attempt to gain support for their cause by generating fear and exploiting the insecurities of the public.
The brief article seems to rely less on establishing an argument and more on crafting an ominous warning about the inevitable crisis that is to befall our children. Most of the statistics he includes describe the manufacturing quotas approved for production by U.S. drug companies— in other words, the maximum amount of stimulants that companies have gotten approval to make. These numbers, which show enormous increases, are used as evidence to convince readers that prescription stimulants are bad. Not only do these numbers say nothing about the way stimulants are being used, they don’t even directly describe the amount of stimulants prescribed to Americans.
To be clear, I don’t disagree with all of Diller’s claims. He is right to be wary of the data that demonstrate the rapid expansion of ADHD diagnoses and prescribed stimulants. Like Diller and many others, I believe that U.S. pharmaceutical companies have behaved unethically when considering the history of stimulants in this country, and I too worry about the over-diagnosis of this disorder in children as well as the overreliance of medication as a “quick fix” for many mental health problems.
My problem with Diller’s approach to this issue, however, is that it attempts to manipulate people into being against prescription stimulants instead of being against the misuses of them. For example, Diller goes to great lengths to illustrate how the amount of stimulants produced in the country is rising, but never actually proves that the increase is bad, or how bad it is, or why it even is bad. Even the title of his article is never explained; there is no mention of evidence that indicates Adderall abuse will be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
Arguments like Diller’s seek to draw emotional responses from the public by dramatizing the rise of stimulants in the U.S. and emphasizing the instances of abuse, but this strategy actually trivializes the validity of ADHD as a real condition. By attempting to eradicate the country of these drugs, they concurrently attack the existence of ADHD, the severity of ADHD symptoms and the benefits that individuals with ADHD receive from stimulants.
Misrepresenting the abuse of stimulants by individuals without ADHD (i.e. the pharmaceutical companies, psychiatrists and people who use without a prescription) to disdain prescription stimulants is not only an inaccurate reflection of reality, it is damaging to individuals with ADHD. As doctors and scientists continue to debate on the issue of prescription stimulants for their use in treating ADHD, personal biases towards drugs should not be the driving factor for determining whether an individual with a diagnosis of ADHD has access to adequate treatment.