The Marketing of ADHD: Who really wins?

Dr. Keith Conners is a renowned psychologist and professor at Duke University. He is also someone whom I respect and admire. He championed A.D.H.D. to be recognized as a legitimate disorder. In an article published on December 14th, 2013 in the New York Times, Dr. Conners cited how disappointed he was with how doctors and parents are now too quick to assume that a child has ADHD.
What have Dr. Conners so concerned? He cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million. The number of children on medication was only 600,000 back in 1990. In the NYT article, Dr. Conners questioned the rising rates of diagnosis and called them “a national disaster of dangerous proportions.”
From a physician’s perspective, I think it’s very easy for a medical doctor to attempt to alleviate a parent’s concern by prescribing drugs for their children. However, I am not quite so sure if this is a winning strategy for the parents. The real winners in this strategy might just be the drug companies. It is estimated that stimulant drug sales have quintupled since 2002 to over 8 billion dollars.
I also can empathize with the parents. I as a parent would probably feel the need to want to do something quickly to fix the problem. A child can’t concentrate, has poor grades, and gets in trouble at school, what will be the future for this child? With all the stress, we face in life it’s probably easy for a lot of parents to deal with the issue by providing some quick and easy solution. Now I am not at all saying prescribing meds in all cases of A.D.H.D. is wrong, I just think both doctors and parents need to weigh the options more carefully.
The FDA has cited every major A.D.H.D. stimulant and non-stimulant drug for false advertising. It’s easy for all of us to fall for the drug company advertising and feel good about giving “Joey” a pill because he is doing so much better in school. Do we ever consider what the long term effects of these drugs are? Believe me, I have been down this road myself as a parent who has a child that is on the spectrum. Dealing with A.D.H.D. or autism leaves a parent with agonizing decisions indeed. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.
Dr. Shah, M.D.