social commentary

pumped up, beyond red bull wings

I wonder, did you see this article in the times?

I stumbled across it during a short break at work a couple weeks ago and was horrified. The prevalence of prescription stimulants across college campuses has been widely discussed in recent years. So has the trend towards over-diagnosing ADHD and other attention disorders. However, this is the first I’ve heard of willful mis-diagnosis as a kind of mediation for low income struggling children.

I can understand the physician’s perspective well enough. What else can the doctor do for these struggling kids besides prescribe medication? What position is the doctor in to help these children succeed academically beyond writing ‘scripts? Socially though we’re failing these children in our neglect and our cultural reliance on the notion of magic pills. Dr. Anderson, the so-called “social justice” doctor prescribing adderall to low income kids, cuts to the core of the issue: “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” Yet I can’t help but think of George Bernard Shaw’s quip about not wasting time on social questions. “What is the matter with the poor”, he said, “is poverty; what is the matter with the rich is uselessness”.

Giving 11 year olds prescription stimulants when what they really need are good teachers, strong communities, and healthy home-lives does not solve the problem. Where are these children going to be 10 years down the line? Will they become addicted to adderall like the thousands of college kids who learned the hard way how dependent adderall made their minds? And what makes a parent embrace psychotropic medications yet shun giving their child coffee because it might stunt their growth?

The most obvious question, of course, is will the medications boost academic performance enough to initiate lasting positive change in the child’s life? Does getting an A in a poor inner-city school make a long lasting difference? Can it get that child into college? And, if it does, how will that child’s odds stack against a wealthy, successful student from a top school who now uses adderall or concerta recreationally to ensure a 4.0 GPA?

None of which is to say that giving the lower income, socially drowning children a medically-induced boost is out of line necessarily… maybe it is better than nothing even if it doesn’t bridge the gap that income disparity is wedging within our nation. Still, it just seems…. I guess pathetic that we’re resigning ourselves to that course of action.

I can’t honestly say that I was surprised by the finding. More so I was surprised to discover that my views on the matter may be naive and antiquated. As I’ve spoken with a couple of people on the matter, I’ve heard more complacency with medicated measures than I anticipated. The perspective seems to be that something is better than nothing and, more importantly, the risk of failing academically is greater than whatever health risks stimulants may pose for future adulthood.

There may be something to that line of though. What is the risk of academic failure for a young American today? What prospects does a high school drop out have for a future in the American workforce? What doors do college degrees really open? Even aside from high unemployment rates, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that it is becoming harder and harder to find a good job without a degree.

I’m interested to know what others think on this matter… and I wonder if more similar stories will begin popping up following Dr. Anderson’s confession.