Another problem is that children are often falsely diagnosed because parents think putting their kids on medication will help them excel or do better in school. Or they might want to take the edge off little Johnny so that he’s easier to handle. Daniel Pine, a National Institues of Mental Health (NIMH) researcher who directed the revisions for the DSM-S, gave the following scenario to Roy Richard Ginker:
“A mother and father bring their 12-year-old son to you because, as they report it, ‘he is doing poorly’ at an exclusive private school with a demanding curriculum. When you look at the boy’s transcript you notice that the boy received mostly grades of B. Teachers report that he is somewhat fidgety, doesn’t pay attention quite as often as other kids, and sometimes seems irritable, .but they don’t say he’s disruptive, outside the norm, or in need of any kind of educational or cognitive assessment. He just isn’t an A student and he is facing a tough middle school curriculum at a tough school.
“Now, you know this kid shouldn’t really have a diagnosis of ADHD – as a researcher you’d never classify him as ADHD – but you ask yourself as a clinician: wouldn’t a little Ritalin or some other stimulant actually help him? It might. He might do better at school. And the parents are pushing you to do something …And so maybe you medicate him, and to medicate him and have insurance reimburse for it, you give a diagnosis of ADHD, and suddenly you’ve got a kid with this label. See how easy it can happen?” (Grinker, 2007, pp. 134-35)
This is a frightening statement, made all the more terrifying by the fact that it was made by someone holding a leadership position in the field of child psychiatry. If you’re not deeply concerned, go back and reread it. Here we have a clinician who openly admits that a child is not abnormal, does not fit the criteria for a diagnosis, shouldn’t need medication, but yet is medicated anyway because the parents are pushing it in the hopes that it might help him keep up with the demands of a private school’s rigorous curriculum, thus turning some respectable Bs into Straight As. And he gives this example as if it’s a benevolent story of a good psychiatrist doing the right thing. In this statement, Daniel Pine confirms every fear that critics have of his dope-a-child up industry – kids are routinely medicated not because they are abnormal or in need of medication, but because it suits the needs of adults.
Ritalin is a powerful stimulant. It’s in the same class of drugs as cocaine. Teens and college kids use it at parties to get high (as well as to cram for finals). There are concerns about how such stimulants alter the brain in a developing child when given on an ongoing basis, potentially impairing the brain’s reward systems later. (See our section on psychiatric medication) The example he gives – the more socially acceptable version of a parent wanting her child to excel at school – may not seem very sinister in nature. (Society seems to be fine with kids being on drugs so long as it contributes to academics and achievement as opposed to pleasure. I wonder if Daniel Pine would take the same approach to giving a child “a little” cocaine.) Yet the reality is that this type of thing is happening for all sorts of disorders and all kinds of reasons.
Maybe little Johnny is a little too much work to handle, and so mom wants a drug that will knock him down a notch. So she bugs her doctor about it, and the next thing you know little Johnny is being sedated so that mom can relax and doesn’t have to work as hard. See how easy this can happen? The chemical abuse of millions of children (not to mention a little bit of felony-level insurance fraud on the side), and a leader at the NIMH is openly dismissing it as common practice. Unbelievable!