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Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 1999 /21 Kislev, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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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 determined.

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 prescription for 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 racketeers, who will?

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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09/27/99: Personal freedom going up in smoke
09/15/99: Farewell, "Miss" America
09/10/99: Will George W. work for a color-blind America?
09/03/99: Feminization of gun debate drowns out sober analysis
08/27/99: America is abundant land of equal-opportunity insult
08/10/99: Protect the next generation from diversity do-goodism
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07/21/99: "True-life tales from the Thin Red Line" (or "Honor those who sacrificed their lives for peace")
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06/15/99: Making a biblical argument against federal death taxes

©1999, Creators Syndicate