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ADD and ADHD - Why All the Focus on Medications?

When you hear about ADD-ADHD, you often hear about medication sooner or later... usually sooner. Most of the time, the person sings the praises of medication. However, an increasing set of voices are less thrilled with medication options.

Parents want to know about the long term health effects of medications. They wonder, "Exactly what do these ADD medications do?" Many people ask why some of these medications are so similar to speed. That seems like giving a child a line of coke to snort. How can that be healthy?

Other people wonder if behavior modification drugs increase the risk of children self-medicating when they become teenagers. In addition, do other problems get lost in the medicating?

Are these concerns valid? Here are some things I have discovered in my research:

Between the years of 1990 and 2000, over 569 children were hospitalized in ADD/ADHD medication-related incidents, 38 of them were life threatening hospitalizations, and 186 died. Some people claim that number is now over a thousand.

The FDA has issued reports on the top three ADD/ADHD drugs, Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin.

During this same time, Adderall (extended release) was linked to 20 sudden deaths, 14 of whom were children. Adderal Extended Release was withdrawn from market by Health Canada. Concerta (methylphenidate, similar to Ritalin) is linked to difficulty breathing, irregular, fast heart beat, high blood pressure, and liver damage.

Related ADHD medications may also raise questions. For example, Strattera (atomoxetine) is linked to high systolic blood pressure, tachycardia, hypotention, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and mood swings. Even the Strattera website reports, "In some children and teens, Strattera increases the risk of suicidal thoughts."

After testing Concerta and Adderall, Dr. William Pelham noted results from a trial comparing drug and behavioral, non-drug approaches to ADHD. He found that 75% of children functioned well without ADHD drugs for a full year, as well as the year following the study. According to Dr. Pelham, "What this means to me is that two-thirds of ADHD kids could be taken off the medications."

Do those figures alarm you? They prompted me to continue my research into the use and risks of ADD/ADHD medications.

Since 1990, the number of people taking Ritalin has increased by 500%. In early 2009, the United States had the world's highest levels of Ritalin use and production.

Canada's Ritalin figures are under half of what the U.S. uses. No other countries have come close. 7 - 10% of American boys are on this drug, which is an overwhelming number compared to other countries around the world. The financial side of this is especially disturbing: As a result of profits from the sale of Ritalin, the U.S. government makes over $450 million annually.

In over ten years' work with ADD/ADHD individuals, I have noticed that the evidence against ADD/ADHD medications has become more and more alarming. However, the numbers of kids diagnosed and medicated just continues to increase.

During that same time, we've seen pharmaceutical profits increase by double- and triple-digits. It's no surprise that pharmaceutical companies have increased their budgets for state and national lobbyists. Is this to keep ADHD-related medications off the table for FDA review?

In my experience, the attractiveness (just one pill) and cost (insurance covered) continue to make medication a popular choice.

Let's be realistic about the alternatives. Tell parents that they'll need to work with a different diet and attitudes. They'll need to develop new and time-intensive ways of parenting. Say that parents may have to fight a school system that often relies on medications as a solution. Soon, the parents' responsibilities can seem a bit too much.

Then tell parents that their child will also have to learn new skill sets to deal with the world. Suddenly, one simple pill seems like a faster, easier solution. In addition, institutions such as educational, medical and social services reward the "correct" choice of medication.

What about the consequences? America seems to have lost some of its own skill sets. Harder work now can result in greater, longer-term rewards, but many parents choose the short-term fix instead. Our society has become accustomed to immediate gratification, and simple solutions with the ease of a drive-thru window.

If all else fails, there's blame. We've become very good at it. If our child becomes a drug addict - or worse - so what? We can blame the doctors, the educators who supported the medications, and the pharmaceutical companies. If we're really lucky we can find someone to sue. That's the American way... isn't it?

If you're shuddering at that idea, there are answers. Successful non-drug treatments exist, and - as Dr. Pelham's studies suggest - they can work as well or better than ADD/ADHD medications. Throughout the traditional and alternative health care fields, an increasing number of experts offer non-drug solutions and coaching for ADD/ADHD children and their families. Between community resources and online referrals, you can find help.

Don't wait for a health crisis with your child. The healthiest solutions aren't as easy as a single pill, but the long-term benefits of alternative approaches are more than worthwhile.

Dr. Kevin Ross Emery is the author of Managing the Gift : Alternative Approaches for Attention Deficit Disorder. Thought Leader, Synergetic Catalyst, Author, Educator, and Radio Personality, Dr. Kevin has spent the last 32 years helping to raise the levels of awareness in both the traditional and nontraditional communities.   Expanding human and business potentials, with holistic integrative approaches that are as practical and pragmatic as they are cutting edge and innovative. Learn more about Dr. Kevin @


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