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Parents Pressured to Put Kids on Drugs:
Courts, Schools Force Ritalin Use
USA TODAY By Karen Thomas, August 08, 2000
Some public schools are accusing parents of child abuse when they balk at giving their kids drugs such as Ritalin, and as judges begin to agree, some parents are medicating their children for fear of having them hauled away by authorities.
It's an emerging twist in the growing debate about diagnosing and medicating children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
* An Albany, N.Y., couple put their 7-year-old son back on Ritalin after a family court ruled that they must continue medicating him for ADD.
* Child protective services visited another New York couple to check out anonymous allegations of ''medical neglect'' after they took their son off Ritalin and other drugs because of side effects, the couple say.
''This is relatively new, but it's happening,'' says Maryland psychiatrist Peter Breggin, who is aware of similar cases in Boston. Often, he says, divorced parents disagree on medicating kids, and judges recently have ruled in favor of the parent who wants to medicate.
The Albany case is apparently the first pitting educators against parents that progressed to a judge's ruling.
''This is going to be happening more and more,'' says psychologist Peter Jensen, who is on the board of Children and Adults With Attention Deficit Disorder, a national parents group that advocates combining drug and behavior treatments.
As many as 3.8 million schoolchildren are diagnosed with ADD/ ADHD, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. At least 2 million take Ritalin, a stimulant, for symptoms such as inattentiveness, impulsivity and sometimes hyperactivity. Many others are treated with different drugs.
Government research released last week from the National Institutes of Health adds to the many findings that show medication improves the abilities of ADHD children.
The latest study shows that non-medicated ADHD kids are three times slower than their non-ADHD counterparts making quick decisions; the slowness vanished with methylphenidate (Ritalin).
Lead researcher Arthur Kramer, a psychologist from Illinois, says, ''Kids who are well-diagnosed with ADHD can benefit from (drug) treatment.''
But should parents be forced to put their children on drugs?
''It's becoming increasingly clear that this is a powerful treatment that can be lifesaving for some children,'' Jensen says. ''We as a society do the same thing with parents who don't immunize or get dental care for their kids. We worry, even though the risk is trivial. The risk for severe ADHD going untreated is not trivial.''
The long-term effects of children taking stimulants have not been studied. And psychology professor William Frankenberger, who has studied ADD/ADHD at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for more than 20 years, says it's ''disturbing to take a decision like that out of parents' hands.''
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