Many kids have problems concentrating on a task, especially in school where it’s imperative. A diagnosis of ADHD for some of those kids is a boon — and the prescription that follows opens up a whole world to them that was closed when they were still at the mercy of their momentary impulses. That’s the good news about ADHD and the role Big Pharma has played in helping certain kids achieve where before they failed, increasing their attentiveness, orderliness, and focus. The bad news?
According to a new book called ADHD Nation: Big Pharma, and the Making of an American Epidemic, the percentage of American children now receiving such a diagnosis is around 15% — a staggeringly high number. That happened because of Big Pharma’s aggressive marketing coupled with the fact that an ADHD diagnosis is essentially a judgement call. Everybody, especially kids, displays its so-called symptoms: restlessness, boredom, fidgeting, less-than-enviable organizational skills, etc. Where’s the line? (Opponents think a cavalier ADHD diagnosis may stop the next Picasso or Martha Graham just when their imaginations start going.) Author Alan Schwarz is careful to say ADHD is real, not some phony ailment wanting snake oil. But he also says experts once believed the percentage of pre-adolescent children afflicted by ADHD was about 3%. That’s a long way from 15%. Schwarz tells the story of its rise with clarity and verve.