HEALTH: by Chris BrowningNews Weekly
Are too many Australian children over-medicated?
, November 17, 2001
Dr George Halasz, a Melbourne child psychiatrist, describes the sykrocketing numbers of children in Australia with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a "manufactured epidemic".
In the past seven years there has been a ten-fold to twenty-fold increase in the use of Ritalin and Dexamphetamine - the prescription drugs used to treat the disorder. Two State Parliamentary inquiries share his concern. The South Australian Parliament is investigating ADHD through its Social Development Committee, and the NSW Parliament is inquiring into the use of drugs and medication in children and young people.
The medical profession is under several pressures when dealing with difficult behaviour in children. Pharmaceutical companies promote their drugs to time-deprived doctors, and sometimes directly to parents through the Internet. Parents and teachers want a rapid change in unacceptable behaviour. The result is an alarming number of children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD who are given Ritalin or Dexamphetamine to treat defiance, aggression, inattention, depression or learning difficulties.
In the US (where even children in kindergarten are on Ritalin), the drug company Ciba Geigy and the American Psychiatric Association were sued by three parents who claim they colluded to "create, develop, promote and confirm the diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in a highly successful effort to increase the market for its product Ritalin" (Psychiatric News
, August 4, 2000).
Dr Halasz says some few children might have ADD or ADHD and then pharmacological treatment is needed, but the current huge numbers indicate an unnecessary quick-fix diagnosis and treatment. An accurate diagnosis of a child's illness can only be made after observing, talking and listening to the patient. But time is not available in a busy general practice. Hence, prescription drugs are used as a first, rather than last resort.
Problem behaviour may be due to stress, grief, anxiety, parental loss, poor communication, loneliness, alienation, sometimes poor parenting. Yet often neither parent nor doctor has enough time for the needs of a worried child, or a schoolyard bully, or a quiet withdrawn small person.
Dr Halasz is speaking at a public seminar called "Pills, Skills and Understanding" convened by Like Minds, an independent community organisation, and chaired by award-winning journalist Peter Ellingsen. Social commentator and writer Anne Manne, whose newspaper columns have raised many concerns about child care and the importance of parenting, will also be speaking. "Pills, Skills and Understanding" will be held at the Royal Children's Hospital, Ella Latham Lecture Theatre, Sunday, November 18 at 1pm.