Post 16 — Public Conversations

This weekend the New York Times published an article that explored a family’s experience with an ADHD-diagnosed child and multiple psycho-pharmaceuticals. The article wasn’t out of the ordinary for its type; the NYT often publishes on the proliferation of ADHD-type behaviour diagnoses, and a few times each year on issues related to ‘behaviour’ drugs prescribed to young children and teens.

This article echoed a subject I noted in my Post 6. There, I noted researchers who were encouraging medicating ADHD-diagnosed children with both an anti-psychotic and stimulant. I found the idea repulsive, horrific and irresponsible.

Feature NYT articles usually include comments sections, but this one did not. I guess that, anticipating the flurry of ‘pro-drug’ and ‘anti-drug’ comments that these articles generally receive, the NYT avoided a ‘different article/same comments’ situation. And it’s true, the comments generally and predictably fall into the I’m-anti-Big-Pharma camp versus the don’t-tell-me-what-to-do-with-my-kid camp.

Undeterred, I went over to the NYT’s Motherlode blog and howled for a few paragraphs in an ‘open-thread’ comments section:

I wrote:

“Here’s my rant: I was depressed, horrified, and sickened to read ‘One Drug or Two? Parents See Risk and Hope’, that discussed drugging a six-year-old with anti-psychotics and stimulants.

Consider all the research, discoveries and achievements by humans in science, health, technology, humanities…but we can’t control a six-year-old without drugging and sedating him with brain-altering chemical cocktails? To what end: So that an agri-pharma corporation shows good second-quarter earnings for its hedge fund?

There is no evidence-based research supporting the mass drugging of children. It’s simply society’s most convenient behavioral control device. Immediate side effects are dismissed, ignored, or treated with more medications; long-term effects on brain and body health are unknown. And what of long-term effect on societies where million of adults were raised on psychotropic meds?

I had a wild, violent, uncontrollable child. I made unwanted but necessary sacrifices to treat, educate and heal him. He’s no longer violent. Shame on a society that drugs children instead of caring for them.”

My comment was followed by a supporter and a detractor. I replied to both, not because I want to duke it out online, but because this is an issue that genuinely interests me.

One reader replied:

“I want to second [Our Violent Child’s] “rant” on the “One Drug, or Two?” article. Let me start by asking: How about “none” as an option. The article repeatedly described the child’s home environment as chaotic, a riot, spirited, etc. The young mother seemed genuinely committed to her child, but also overwhelmed. All young children benefit from a calm, structured home life, but some children are particularly affected by disruptive environments?

Also, let me say that human beings have managed to raise children without drugging them into oblivion with speed and psychotropics for all of human history, and people in other countries still manage to do so. Go to the UK, or France, or Sweden- you won’t find whole classes of kindergarteners lining up to be handed their meds.”

I replied:

“You’re absolutely right about home environments for these types of kids. A lot of them have overlapping ‘sensory’ issues, and are acutely sensitive to simply everything around them. But I disagree that anything would be better in the UK or France (where we lived). I would love to know if northern European nations fare better with these types of behaviour issues. Big Pharma has a long, long arm, and healing and developing these kids takes years, or significant institutional changes (ie how public school accommodates them).”

My detractor lashed out angrily:

“Wow. I am glad you had such great luck with your child. Sadly, not all parents are as lucky as you are. Do not vilify the parents of children you know nothing about.

My son, who has terrible ADHD, came home from his first day of second grade and announced how relieved he was that he was now on medication. It makes school so much better he told me. We took him off in 6th grade due to side effects, and he has asked to be put back on. His life is falling apart. Unfortunately, we cannot use the same medications anymore and are in the process of genetic testing to try to help him. I have quit my job to be with him and I do all I can, but nothing seems to be working. I really don’t need another parent telling me what a terrible person I am for trying to find the right medication. I already feel like a failure as it is.”

And I replied:

“I have had NO “luck” with my child or my experience. I have worked tirelessly with him for nine years as his de facto teacher, occupational therapist, security guard, psychologist, integrative wellness specialist, and spiritual advisor in order to develop what most kids develop naturally in their pre-frontal cortex. This has, like in your case, devastated our family income. I am, like you, exhausted.

Nowhere in my writing do I vilify individuals for the choices they make for their children. I’m not “telling” you anything, or judging you in any way. We are on the same side, not opposite sides. What I do is rage against a society that creates NO options for our children except those that are completely profit-motivated, that show no evidence of healing, and do real harm. And I rage against the medical and psychiatric systems for encouraging this, except my anger is pointless because psychiatry and conventional medicine are broken systems. I genuinely wish you well and hope you find the solutions that help your son.”

Finally, someone who described herself as a teacher and mother wondered why the parent in the article refused to avail her family of the Special Education opportunities presented by their child’s school. I didn’t reply. I have no experience with Special Ed programs, since I purposefully avoided diagnoses and fled the bricks-and-mortar school system for the son I write about. Also, a woman personalised my comment and expressed her regret that my experience with psychiatry had been negative. (I have no personal experience with psychiatry. I’ve just taken in enough information about it to avoid it like the Black Plague. She should have felt sorry that I read too much.)

Why a Blog Post?

But I felt it was relevant to write a post on the article and the short exchanges I had with these people, because we all represent the breadth of opinion on the subject. I feel as badly for my detractor as I do for my own situation. When the people who are medicating their kids attack anti-drug commenters, I always hear it as a doleful howl and defensive bark of a wounded animal.

Parents of these children are exhausted and sad; their children are miserable at school. The whole situation upends lives. Parents need to work, and disruptive kids throw a wrench in the routines and construction of everyone’s lives. We’re a society that requires controlled kids, and options to heal and educate a whole child don’t exist.

Many People are Convinced that Drugs Help Significantly

Psychopharmacology presents the ONLY option that lets parents return to work and that allows teachers to control students. But it’s not a solution that addresses the root of a child’s issues; it’s a chemical Band-Aid. And even if side effects aren’t apparent (and they most often are, as they were to the angry commenter), a regular, powerful cocktail dose of poorly understood chemicals is hardly an acceptable solution to a developing brain.

There are many teens and adults who defend the drugs they were/are prescribed. People describe how their lives were improved with stimulants. They report that they were/are calmer, able to focus, able to fit in. I accept these comments as snapshots of truth. We are a medicated culture, a world so awash [quite literally, as all the chemicals return to us in our water supplies] in mostly-unnecessary or poorly chosen pharmaceuticals that we have grown to dismiss the unknown effects and ‘side effects’ as routine, acceptable, and unimportant.

We’re a Drugged Planet

I’d argue that our reaction is the numbing effect of the sheer amount of socially sanctioned drugs in our culture. Most people I know take loads of drugs: Antidepressants (proven to be as effective as placebos), tranquilizers (when meditation is proven healthier and more effective in every way), painkillers (so powerful that they’ve become the newest street narcotic; and less effective at pain relief than soft-tissue manipulation), and unnecessary antibiotics.

Friends with autoimmune diseases take immune-suppressants that lessen symptoms but actually worsen immune function, when diet and smart supplementation from Functional Medicine is now proven to heal that immune system. And we all consume antibiotics through the unnecessary antibiotics fed to industrial farm animals.

So, I would argue that parents are dulled to the significance of drugging children long before their physicians or shrinks suggest and prescribe them. They’ve turned a blind eye to the effects of their own many medications, and are highly motivated to deny the effects of these drugs on their children’s short- and long-term brain and body health.

I am Not Anti-Drug/Psychiatry. I am Anti-Stupid.

I am not anti-psychiatry. I am anti-stupid, profit-motivated psychiatry. I am not anti-life-saving pharmaceuticals. I am against lifestyle drugging. And I do have a right to my opinion about my neighbour’s choice of drugs, because we all drink and bathe in: Granny’s artificial hormone replacement chemicals, in Grandpa’s cholesterol meds, in Sister’s antidepressant, in Dad’s anti-anxiety pills, in Teen’s black-market painkillers, in Daughter’s birth control pills, in Nephew’s anti-psychotic, in Mom’s tranquilizer…did I miss anything? Oh, yes, Industrial Cow’s daily antibiotics (in the daily water supply and resulting in antibiotic-resistant microbes).

How many of these drugs could be replaced by non-drug life choices? Almost all of them. The evidence-based science is out there for anyone to read. Because hemophilia and acute heart attack and cancer are other issues entirely. There is no evidence-based science to support feeding millions of children multiple psycho-pharmaceuticals. It’s simply what we’ve gotten used to doing.

Practitioners in the fields of Functional and Integrative Medicine have no ties to the pharmaceutical giants, and are demonstrating an ability to think far beyond conventional medicine and psychiatry. I have heard practitioners discuss children’s behaviour issues, and they do so in terms of whole-child health and not simply tamping down symptoms. This is where the next ideas will come from. Until then, I’ll continue to swim against the current of pharmaceutical run-off and develop my child’s whole self on my own.

Addendum:  A week after the first NYT article appeared, NYT published letters to the editor that were cherry-picked for their writers’ personal experience or professional associations. I pasted them here:

To the Editor:

In “One Drug or 2? Parents See Risk but Also Hope” (front page, Nov. 15), we empathize with a mother’s pain over deciding whether her 6-year-old son, Matthias, should be given antipsychotic medication on top of the stimulant he’s taking for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But as a psychiatrist I’m shocked that the article doesn’t focus on the most important question: What is causing this boy’s disruptive behavior?

The boy has mysterious rages, refuses to join activities and bolts from “adults trying to corral him.” This sounds a lot like anxiety. He refuses to do math and word exercises in school. Does he have a learning disorder? He melts down when his mother parks in the wrong spot. Could he be on the autism spectrum? There’s chaos in his home life. Is trauma an issue?

Trying to control this boy’s behavior with Risperdal without trying to understand it is a long way from best practices. His pediatrician is quoted as saying, “He’s got M.S.D. — Matthias Specific Disorder.” That may be intended as humor, but giving a child an accurate diagnosis is a serious matter.

President, Child Mind Institute
New York, Nov. 17, 2014

To the Editor:

There is no greater burden placed upon parents with challenging children than the decision to accept the strong recommendations from medical figures to dose their children with antipsychotic drugs. I faced the same situation as Joelle Kendle in 1998, when my son was 5 years old. I yielded, unfortunately.

My son died suddenly 10 years later from an adverse side effect called neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a result of a buildup of antipsychotic drugs over time.

I have two suggestions for Ms. Kendle and other parents: Resist the huge pressure to dose with antipsychotic drugs (they never helped my son; they simply caused side effects), and pursue pediatric neurological solutions and alternative therapies. It turns out my son had learning disabilities that, in part, provoked his challenging behavior.

There is explosive growth in prescribing antipsychotics to children under 18, and most prescriptions for children have little or no clinical support of efficacy. It is just guesswork.

New York, Nov. 15, 2014

To the Editor:

“One Drug or 2?” creates the impression that the only choices available to Dr. Lawrence Diller and the mother of the patient were to add Risperdal to the stimulant treatment or to do nothing. There are many pharmacological options available in this situation, including raising the dose of the Adderall; switching to a different stimulant; adding one of several nonstimulant, nonantipsychotic drugs such as Tenex, Kapvay or Strattera; or using an antipsychotic other than Risperdal. Avoiding antipsychotics is preferable.

Coatesville, Pa., Nov. 15, 2014

The writer is a child psychiatrist and a clinical professor of psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine.

To the Editor:

Contrary to widely held beliefs and drug-company marketing, there is little scientific support for the idea that drugs work for A.D.H.D.

Instead, long-term studies have shown that most children who receive a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. in the late preschool or early school years outgrow it. Those who appear to have been helped with medications have instead outgrown the symptoms. Adding additional medications, including antipsychotics, or increasing the dose, or both, does not change this finding.

What studies have shown does help prevent the development of A.D.H.D., and can remove its symptoms, is fully functional parenting and the supportive community that such parenting requires. This is what has deteriorated in recent years as many families, except for the very wealthy, have been punished by our changing economy. More and more is demanded of parents in the workplace, making it less and less possible for them to provide what their children need. The result: more and more A.D.H.D., including ever more severe cases.

Nashville, Nov. 17, 2014

The writer is a retired psychologist and lecturer at Vanderbilt University.



3 thoughts on “Post 16 — Public Conversations

  1. Tina

    I ‘m glad I found your blog and I just finished reading through your posts. I admire your strength, patience and analytical talent you showed throughout all these years!
    I’d love to read more about micronutrients and Supplements you use (and how you determined quantities) and how you get your son to actually take them. We are currently transitioning into a Paleo-like lifestyle eating only real food (including bits and pieces from WAPF, GAPS..) How do handle sugar cravings and tantrums caused by food topics?

    1. Liz Sydney Post author

      Hi Tina, Thank you so much for kind words that honestly touched the heart of an exhausted parent! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the posts. Your questions touch on such large topics that I realized I couldn’t reply in a comment but will instead devote the next post to them. I hope you’ll follow the blog or check back for my post. And I wish you great strength as you shift your family’s diet. I appreciate that these are gargantuan efforts on the part of any family meal-planner/cook!


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