Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 1999 /21 Kislev, 5760
Stop the Ritalin racketeers
"TEENAGERS SHUN DRUG USE," announced the New York Times last week. Public
officials are positively giddy about purported signs of a decline in teen
drug use. One new report says 40 percent of teens polled agree strongly
that "kids who are really cool don't use drugs." Another recent study
found that less than one in 10 youths say they use cocaine, marijuana or
other hard drugs.
"We have turned an important corner on youth drug use," our non-inhaling
President Clinton declared.
Not so fast. While one hand of government waves "drug-free" signs and
T-shirts, the other hand peddles a widely-abused substance to
schoolchildren across the country. The drug, which is classified by the
feds in the same regulatory category as cocaine, morphine, and PCP, is
methylphenidate hydrochloride. An estimated six million youths who now take
the psychostimulant know it better by its commercial name: Ritalin.
Use of the drug has skyrocketed 500 percent in the past five years,
according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Chronic abuse can
lead to psychotic episodes and violent behavior. Toddlers as young as
three are popping it; grade-schoolers are hawking it on the playground;
college students are snorting it to help them concentrate.
A study last year by the respected Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found
that 16 percent of K-12 students surveyed had been approached to sell, give
or trade their prescribed Ritalin; 44 percent of the students said Ritalin
was stored unlocked at school. The Journal of School Health reported that
a worrisome number of non-health professionals – principals, secretaries,
and clerical workers – are dispensing the drug.
Two federal policies abetted the Ritalin racket: the opening of the
Supplemental Security Income program to children diagnosed with Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and
the creation of a $400-per-head school grant for every ADHD-diagnosed
student. The programs are ripe for exploitation. SSI benefits are not
subject to family caps; there are no limits on how the money is spent. An
Education Department official admitted to Investor's Business Daily that
the student grants give schools "an incentive to identify more kids with
special education needs,'' leading to potential ''over-identification'' --
and over-medication -- of ADHD in schools.
School nurses and scientific experts have expressed similar concerns. Yet,
critics of rampant Ritalin use in the classroom are often cast as
pharmaceutical bashers, bigots, or religious zealots. When a majority of
the Colorado state board of education issued a non-binding resolution this
month expressing concern about psychiatric drug use among children, they
were pilloried by the press, medical groups, and mental-health lobbyists.
Why? The board simply opined that behavioral drugs such as Ritalin have
been dispensed to control "what are essentially problems of discipline
which may be related to lack of academic success."
The resolution encouraged teachers not to rely on drugs as a crutch for
controlling classrooms. The board's offended opponents fumed that Ritalin
skeptics were medically ignorant and prejudiced against students diagnosed
with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. But experts at the National
Institute of Health themselves admitted in a consensus statement last fall
that "an independent diagnostic test for ADHD does not exist." More studies
are needed "to establish the validity of the disorder," the panel
The NIH also pointed out that non-drug approaches such as "contingency
management" (which involves point/token reward systems, timeout strategies,
and other disciplinary measures in the classroom) are effective in treating
ADHD. That's exactly what the Colorado education board endorsed.
Responsible school officials should follow their lead.
Defenders of school-dispensed Ritalin scoff at fears that the government is
engaging in dangerous "mind control." But those fears are well-founded.
Recent newspaper investigations in California and Washington state
uncovered appalling abuse of psychotropic drugs by public officials looking
for expedient "chemical straitjackets" to manage foster children. One
California health official made glib reference to a common government
kids dubbed the "bad-boy cocktail" – a behavioral-drug mixture of Ritalin,
Depakote and Clonidine.
The Los Angeles Times reported that doctors,
judges, attorneys and child welfare workers in 13 states and Canada said
such drugging occurs in other areas of the country as well.
Drugs, kids, and the Nanny State are a toxic combination. Public schools
have plenty to do without becoming full-service pharmacies. If parents
and educators don't stand up and say no to government-sponsored Ritalin
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.
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©1999, Creators Syndicate