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How America's Kids Got Hooked on Big Pharma's Meth

Are Adderall and Ritalin the best answer for ADHD? NYT Reporter Alan Schwarz and Gabor Mate get to the bottom of the problems around these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Alan Schwarz, who is the award-winning  New York Times reporter who has extensively written about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or  ADHD. His most recent  article, on Sunday, front-page piece of  The New York Times, looks at how the number of diagnoses soared amidst a 20-year drug marketing campaign. Yes, it’s called "The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder."

And we’re joined in Vancouver, Canada, by Dr. Gabor Maté. He is the physician and best-selling author who, among his books, has written  Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It.

Let’s start with Dr. Gabor Maté. You have been dealing with this issue for a long time. You see  ADHD as a very serious issue for children, as well as adults. In fact, you were diagnosed yourself as an adult. So, how do you reconcile that with the drugging, the massive drugging of America’s children? We don’t even know the numbers. I think it’s 3.5 million between the ages of four and 17, but it’s not counted in the United States beyond that.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: As Alan Schwarz indicated, it’s a genuine problem that does affect a lot of people, myself included. The question is how to understand it and how to deal with it. And the first thing to say is that not everybody who’s got trouble paying attention or has impulse-control issues has  ADHD. There’s all kinds of other reasons why people might have various manifestations. So to put them all into the  ADHD basket is to ignore the complexity of human behavior.

Secondly, to make the assumption that even if somebody has these traits, and even if they have them over a lifetime, that the significant or the only answer is medication is to ignore, again, the complexity of the human brain and human behavior. So, what we have here is a vast oversimplification of what is a fairly sophisticated problem. And it’s that oversimplification then that the pharmaceutical companies exploit to their great advantage, as Alan has documented.

AMY GOODMAN: Alan Schwarz, how did you get interested in doing this investigative series? I mean, you were the sports guy at  The New York Times. You were writing, actually, about concussions.

ALAN SCHWARZ: Yeah, I was a sports guy at the  Times. I was lucky enough to be able to cover the concussion issue from the beginning and get to break a lot of stories in that realm. And then, when I was a little tired of that, when I heard that high school kids were snorting Adderall before the SATs, I questioned: How much pressure are we putting on these kids? I don’t think they want to do this. And so the first story that I did was in the context of academic pressure and what some kids will do in order to deal with it.

And after doctors—doctor upon doctor upon doctor—told me that, "Oh, this is not an overdiagnosed condition; this is underdiagnosed," and I looked at the numbers, and it was—it’s a preposterous assertion. I said, "Wait a minute. What are the doctors doing here? What are their motivations? What are their biases? How do they misunderstand probability and statistics?" And so, I looked into it further, and there were so many issues at play here, with regard to why doctors prescribe, how often doctors prescribe.

I think one of my regrets is that I haven’t been able to do a story on the good that Adderall can do. I try to acknowledge it in my stories. But, of course, it’s a good drug. What we have to be careful of is, how do we use it?

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