About one in 10 high school boys in America is drugged, and that number could soon double.
We're talking about legal drugs &#8211; and this is not an April Fools' joke.
According to this morning's report from the New York Times, the number of kids diagnosed with &#8211; and medicated for &#8211; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is skyrocketing in the United States. And there's a pretty good consensus in the medical community that doctors, parents and teachers are too quick to slap that ADHD label on children.
Twenty percent of high school boys are diagnosed with the disorder, and 10 percent of high school boys are medicated for it. Diagnosis rates for girls are about half that.
Unfortunately, the definition of the disorder is about to be broadened, meaning the big numbers reported today are about to get bigger.
What's going on here?
A cynic (this one, anyway) might say this has more to do with culture than medicine. It has to do with a culture that has turned to prescription drugs to fix any and all things wrong with our lives, from headaches to heartaches, from waking to sleeping, from digestion to copulation. It has to do with a culture that allows economics to drive behavior (sales of drugs used to treat ADHD doubled to $9 billion last year compared to five years prior). It has to do with a culture that has put test scores above learning in our public education system.
All of which makes ADHD a popular diagnosis for kids who just won't sit still in school.
This isn't to say that the disorder isn't real or isn't a handicap for some children. It certainly can be, and in those cases needs to be taken seriously.
But according to the Times' story, many experts believe the diagnosis and medications are overused, and have become "a popular shortcut to better grades."
"There's a tremendous push where if the kid's behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal &#8211; if they're not sitting quietly at their desk &#8211; that's pathological, instead of just childhood," said Jerome Groopman, a professor at the Harvard Medical School.
"There's no way that one in five high school boys have ADHD," said James Swanson, a top ADHD researcher for 20 years.
William Graf, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine, said he was "floored" by the statistic. He added, "Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy."
Even so, the American Psychiatric Association plans to change the definition of ADHD to allow even more children to be diagnosed and medicated, according to the Times.
Some of those kids will see their lives improved by diagnosis and treatment. But, if you believe the experts, many others will be put on drugs just to keep them from acting like kids.
It sounds like one of those science-fiction novels I liked to read in grade school, about dystopian societies in the future. Who knew the future would arrive so soon?
Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.