Citizens Committee on Human Rights

The Mental Health Watchdog

Australian National Office

The Increasing ADHD Drugging of Australia’s Children

In many parts of Australia, there are few families and teachers whose lives have not been interrupted by the prescription of mind-altering drugs to children. The information provided here has been drawn from many sources and is only a fraction of the available knowledge. It is provided so that parents, guardians and others can become more educated about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in order to make better informed decisions regarding their child’s recommended treatment.

Children do experience emotional or behavioural problems, sometimes severe. Some have problems learning and sitting still; no one can dispute this.

Commonly, a psychiatrist or psychologist tells parents that their child suffers from a Learning Disorder (LD) – also labelled Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or most often today, ADHD. “Brain disease” or a “chemical imbalance” of the brain may also be mentioned, but parents are usually told that this is a well-recognised “medical problem” demanding continuous, prescribed medication. Look, research and decide for yourself. Ask for the evidence that this is so and ask for tests to prove it. Unlike medicine, there is no scientific basis for any of these “psychiatric disorders.”

The diagnosis of ADD is entirely subjective….There is no test. It is just down to interpretation.1

Dr. Joe Kosterich, former Federal Chairman of the General Practitioners’ Council of the Australian Medical Association.

Going down the ‘diagnosis leads to medication pathway’ is really dumbing down the whole process of understanding a child’s behaviour.2

Dr Jon Jureidini, Child psychiatrist, University of Adelaide.

Important Note: No one should stop taking any psychiatric drug without the assistance of a competent medical doctor. The information on this page is not a substitute for medical advice. It is not and should not be considered medical advice. Competent medical advice should always be sought.

Is There Any Science Behind ADHD?

The high proportion of young people with ADHD could be influenced by diagnostic definitions and by rubbery diagnostic criteria… Many of these diagnostic conditions for ADHD are just part of the normal spectrum of childhood behaviour.3

Trevor Parmenter Foundation Professor in Developmental Disability Studies in the Faculties of Education and Medicine Sydney University.

 

Microscope lenses closeup.In October 2004, The Western Australian Government completed its Inquiry into ADHD. One of the findings stated: “There are no tests that identify the existence of ADHD in a biological sense.”4

The psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the primary reference used in the diagnosis of ADHD and other psychiatric labels in Australia. Experts agree that it lacks any scientific basis. In 1987, members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the publisher of DSM, simply “voted” on a list of behavioural symptoms, called this new “disorder” ADHD and inserted the symptoms into the DSM, which Australia has since adopted.

Within a year of its publication, 500,000 American children were diagnosed as ADHD sufferers.

Our children’s lives are being placed at risk by an alliance which works like this: The American Psychiatric Association invents disorders and adds them into the DSM. Drug companies then make drugs to match the new disorder and then apply to Australia’s drug regulatory agency, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for authority to use them in Australia.

In some cases, a diagnosis from this manual is required to obtain psychiatric drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as well as for some Medicare rebates for psychiatric treatment.

The DSM IV (1994) entry for ADHD states: “There are no laboratory tests, neurological assessments or attentional assessments that have been established as diagnostic in the clinical assessment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” The latest edition of DSM which Australia has also adopted, DSM 5 (2013) states: “No biological marker is diagnostic for ADHD.”5

DSM IV states: “Signs of the disorder may be minimal or absent when the person is receiving frequent rewards for appropriate behaviour, is under close supervision, is in a novel setting, is engaged in especially interesting activities, or in a one to one situation (e.g., the clinician’s office).” DSM 5 states: virtually the same except with the addition of “has consistent external stimuli (eg via electronic screens)” as an additional reason why signs of the disorder may be minimal or absent.

Therefore, the DSM, itself, says that there are no tests or biological markers to prove ADHD exists as a medical condition and signs of the “disorder” may be absent when the child is taken to the doctor (clinician’s office). Cancer or diabetes do not “disappear” in one environment, while are evident in others.

Despite the lack of objective proof of its existence, millions of children worldwide have been harmed because of the use of this diagnosis. In Australia over 62,000 children aged 2-16 years were taking mind-altering ADHD drugs in 2013, based on subjective and arbitrary “expert” opinion about their behaviour.6

Since 1992/93, a staggering 861,324 prescriptions for ADHD drugs for all ages were written on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (this does not include any private prescriptions).

If there is no valid test for ADHD, no data proving ADHD is a brain dysfunction, no long-term studies of the drugs’ effects, and if the drugs do not improve academic performance or social skills and the drugs can cause compulsive and mood disorders and can lead to illicit drug use, why in the world are millions of children, teenagers and adults…being labelled with ADHD and prescribed these drugs?

Dr Mary Anne Block, Author of No More ADHD.

Further, the “Father” of ADHD, Dr Leon Eisenberg, announced a few months before his death in 2009 that ADHD is a prime example of a “fictitious disease.” In fact, ADHD was merely a theory developed by Eisenberg and was never proven as a verifiable disease.7

ADHD is a stigmatising psychiatric label. Once labelled, a child is considered to have a psychiatric disorder—to be mentally ill or diseased (euphemistically expressed as mentally disordered). This label can negatively affect a child’s and others’ perceptions of himself/herself, both now and in the future.

There are many reasons why a child might be displaying behavioural or educational problems. Psychiatric drugging can mask the real cause.

Parental Rights Regarding ADHD Drugs

It’s dangerous to believe medication is the only answer.” Furthermore, “The [ADHD] guidelines could push drugs on children before exploring what else could be wrong. The symptoms of ADHD are also the symptoms of many other childhood experiences and by putting drugs as the first line treatment you are going to increase the reliance on medication.8

Dr. Joe Tucci, President of the Australian Childhood Foundation.

Boy close-up face portrait.Dr. Tucci is referring to Australia’s Draft ADHD Guidelines, which were scrapped in December 2013 due to conflicts of interest, largely between the researchers cited and pharmaceutical companies that manufacturer ADHD drugs. This included the most cited psychiatrist in the guidelines having been under US Congressional investigation for financial conflicts.

The issue of forcing parents to drug their child in Australia came to the forefront in 2011, when Australia’s ADHD Clinical Practice Points [ADHD CPPs- document used by psychiatrists and others to diagnose and drug ADHD] were being drafted. There was a proposal that if parents did not implement strategies to treat their child diagnosed with “ADHD” that Child Protective Services should be contacted—potentially having the right to remove a child from parental custody if the parents refused to drug the child. There was a huge uproar from parents and the general public.9

Subsequently, the new Australian ADHD CPPs, released in September 2012, specified that parents could not be forced to drug their child. This was a considerable improvement protecting parents from being forced or pressured to administer potentially-damaging mind-altering ADHD drugs to their child.10 And, more importantly, this also protects the child.

Rather, “Parents/carers must be given information on the diagnosis and management plan, including any potential adverse effects of treatment in order to fully inform them and to have them make a decision regarding the treatment that is offered to their child,” according to a key statement in the ADHD CPPs.11 Knowing this right, parents should insist upon this should their child be “diagnosed” with ADHD and drugs are recommended.

ADHD Drug Risks

Side-effects text on card.The key drugs prescribed to “treat” ADHD (control behaviour) are Ritalin, Concerta, Attenta (methylphenidate), dexamfetamine and lisdexamfetamine. They are Schedule 8 drugs in Australia; i.e. potential drugs of addiction or prone to abuse.

Therefore, it is not surprising that researchers of the first long-term outcomes stimulant study in the world, the 2010 Raine Study, conducted by the Telethon Institute in Western Australia, found that children receiving stimulants had significantly greater diastolic blood pressure (the pressure between heart beats) than children who have never received medication.12 This side-effect can predispose children to the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Nor do stimulant drugs improve the child’s academic results; quite the opposite. The researchers found that “stimulant medication use increased the odds of below-age-level academic achievement by a factor of 10 times” which “strongly suggests that medication may not result in any long term academic gains (as rated by a classroom teacher).” 13

A 2007 Oregon Health and Science University Evidence-Based Practice Centre review of 2,287 studies—virtually every study ever conducted on ADHD drugs at that time—determined that no trials had shown the effectiveness of stimulants and that there was a lack of evidence that they could affect “academic performance, consequences of risky behaviours, social achievements, etc.”14

Anyone in Australia can report adverse reactions to prescribed drugs to The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA):

  1. On-line, log onto: https://www.ebs.tga.gov.au/ebs/ADRS/ADRSRepo.nsf
  2. Phone to report to a pharmacist: 1300 134 237; or to speak to the TGA: 1800 044 114

In April 2006, Australian authorities launched an investigation into the safety of ADHD drugs following 400 adverse reactions reported to the TGA and the disclosure that a 5 year old on Ritalin had suffered a stroke and a 7 year old died suddenly while on Ritalin. As a result, warnings were strengthened for the ADHD drugs dexamphetamine and methylphenidate to warn of cardiac problems and psychiatric episodes connected with these drugs.

Figures for Adverse Drug Reaction Reports (ADRs) linked to Ritalin and dexamphetamine as of mid-October 2016, show 9 more reports of suicidal ideation and behaviour since 2005 with 3 of those suicide attempts and 1 completed suicide.15

Strattera is an antidepressant marketed as a “non-stimulant ADHD” drug with the strongest warning that can be placed on a drug in Australia, called a “Boxed Warning,” to warn of suicidal behaviour.16 Of the 146 adverse drug reaction reports received by the TGA by mid-2016, 41 were for suicidal ideation (28 were for children under 18), 4 suicide attempts and 3 completed suicides, one a child.17

Astoundingly, Australian experts have stated that it is thought that only between 1 and 10% of all ADRs are even reported to the TGA.18 So the number of incidents of serious side effects is likely very much higher, putting tens of thousands of Australian children at potential risk.

Despite this, ADHD drug use in Australia increased by 72.9% between 2000 and 2011. 19

Withdrawal Syndrome

Swirly PillsWithdrawal syndrome is a side effect rarely explained at time of prescribing. It can occur when someone stops a psychiatric drug, decreases the dose or switches from one psychiatric drug to another.

Doing this without proper medical supervision can cause withdrawal syndrome. This is described as worsening of symptoms and/or new symptoms not before experienced. This can be severe in some cases.

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration has issued warnings for withdrawal syndrome and it is something known very well about by the psychiatric industry.

For this reason it is very important that no one stops taking a psychiatric drug without the advice and assistance of a competent medical doctor.

Is ADHD a Brain Disorder? A Dutch Commission Finds Psychiatric Claim is False. ADHD is Not a Brain Disorder.

Brain and beams on blue background.The Netherlands Advertisement Code Commission (Reclame Code Commissie) has ruled that the country’s Brain Foundation cannot claim that ADHD is a neurobiological disease or brain dysfunction, as psychiatrists misleadingly tell parents and, indeed, paediatricians and family physicians. The Commission ordered the Foundation to cease making such false claims in their advertising.

In its decision handed down on 6th August 2002, the Advertisement Code Commission found that the Brain Foundation had falsely advertised and solicited funding by publishing ads in newspapers, magazines, flyers and on TV that stated ADHD is an “inherent brain dysfunction.”

The Advertisement Code Commission decision stated, “The information that the defendant presented gives no grounds for the definitive statement that ADHD is an inherent brain dysfunction…. Under the circumstances, the defendant has not been careful enough and the advertisement is misleading.”20

Is ADHD Like Diabetes?

Let me clear this up right now. ADHD is not like diabetes and [the stimulant used for it] is not like insulin. Diabetes is a real medical condition that can be objectively diagnosed. ADHD is an invented label with no objective, valid means of identification. Insulin is a natural hormone produced by the body and it is essential for life. [This stimulant] is a chemically derived amphetamine-like drug that is not necessary for life. Diabetes is an insulin deficiency. Attention and behavioural problems are not a [stimulant] deficiency.

Dr. Mary Ann Block
Author, No More ADHD

Question mark made from drug capsules.

Psychiatrists argue that ADHD requires “medication” in the same way that diabetes requires insulin treatment; they further argue that to deny children such “medication” would be like denying insulin to a diabetic. The analogy is false.

Psychiatric drugs do not treat mental disorders in the same way as insulin treats diabetes. “What is implied in this statement is that psychotherapeutic drugs correct known chemical deficiencies (or excesses, or other instances), in the same way that insulin does. This analogy is repeated over and over again, not only in promotional material… and in articles published in professional journals, but, judging from reports from patients, every day in offices of psychiatrists and other physicians,” wrote Elliot Valenstein, Ph.D., Biopsychologist and author of Blaming the Brain.

Education and Tutoring

5 year old boy dreaming while doing his maths homework.According to Dr Linda Graham, Senior Researcher at the Faculty of Education and Social work at Sydney University, resources would be better spent on giving teachers the skills and support to deal with a variety of children’s behaviour rather than singling out so-called disorders. A letter to the Education Minister by 14 researchers,21 including Dr Graham, criticised moves to instruct teachers to look out for ADHD, stating that this could cause teachers to miss signs indicating other difficulties at home or with learning. “The diagnostic criteria for ADHD over the past 15 years has been expanding and it is now possible to diagnose one of my cats,” 22 Dr Graham told The Australian.

Education has regressed with the introduction of psychological concepts into the curriculum. For example, in some areas phonics are ignored and children have been forced to memorise nearly every word without understanding the logical sequence of letters or their sounds. Over the years it has had different names: “Look-Say” in the 1940s and 50s, “sight-word” method in the mid- to late-1960s, to “psycholinguistics” and “Whole Language” or “Whole Word” in the 1980s.

Consequently, students simply don’t understand what they are being told to study.

Therefore, educational basics and tutoring should be key tools to address “challenging behaviour.” If a child is behind in a subject, tutoring on that subject should also be considered.

Furthermore, in many cases the child is inattentive in school because he is extremely talented and is bored. Former US President Bush’s 14-year-old nephew, Pierce, is an example of this. In 2000, he appeared on the Larry King Live TV show in the United States, with his father, Neil, who explained how Pierce was told he was ADD and needed a stimulant, which the boy refused to take. Instead, Pierce was given 3 1/2 days of assessment and was found to be a “gifted and talented kid.” 23

Alternatives

Kids eating healthy food in kindergarten or at home.There is no question that at times children have problems and sometimes these problems can be severe and they need help. This is not in dispute. What care each and every child receives is what is important. The actual cause of the problem for each child needs to be found and the child then helped with addressing that cause, until it is rectified and they can live happy, normal lives again.

Parents are not being informed about the alternatives: that their children could suffer underlying physical problems manifesting as symptoms of “ADHD,” that the child may need to be assessed for special talents and gifts, or that exercise, communication, diet or discipline might be lacking or they may need tutoring if they are behind in school.

Children, indeed all of us, must be provided with proper and effective medical care. Sound medical attention, good nutrition and a healthy and safe environment can prevent the stigmatising and discriminatory effects of psychiatric labels and treatment.

Children have every youthful right to expect protection, care, love and the chance to reach their full potential in life. Psychiatry’s labels and drugs deny these rights. There are non-psychiatric alternatives that do exist and do work.

Recommendations

"Recommendations" written on a blackboard.

  1. That educational policy is implemented preventing psychiatric or psychological assessment of schoolchildren, especially based on any edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the “Mental Disorders” section of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). That teachers and all school personnel’s educational duties do not involve suggesting or being expected to coercing parents into placing their child on psychiatric drugs, as a requisite for their education. That teachers have the inherent right as educators to refuse to do this. Education policy must be devoid of any proposal or recommendation that “teachers and other school personnel be trained to identify ADHD and other psychiatric disorders and to be able to contribute to the treatment which has been implemented….” This is a parent’s decision, not educators.
  2. That government-funded information pamphlets be placed in all state and private schools, as well as issued to Parents and Teachers’ Associations, providing parents and teachers with full information about the diverse and conflicting medical opinion about “ADHD” and “learning” or “behavioural” problems; that this opinion includes scientific evidence that allergies and toxic reactions, and sleeping problems, may manifest as so-called ADHD, for which a competent doctor should first conduct tests for. Additionally, a child may need educational basics—acknowledging the value of the phonetic-based method of teaching reading, and thereby the value of defining key words—and/or tutoring.
  3. That parents and/or appointed representative or guardian are informed of all non-drug non-abusive therapies, to educate them, and thus ensure full informed consent. The information must include any so-called advantages, and very clearly, the disadvantages, the side effects and known risks, as well as available alternative treatments.
  4. That on admission to a psychiatric unit, the child or youth must have the right to a full and thorough physical and pathological examination performed by competent personnel to determine whether or not the presenting symptoms are, in fact, due to an undiagnosed medical condition.
  5. That strong criminal penalties be implemented for any psychiatrist prescribing stimulants or other psychotropic drugs to children or young people, without the full, informed consent of the age-appropriate young person and parent or appointed representative. Informed consent should include information about all alternatives.
  6. That given the increasing youth drug abuse, Federal and State Governments review the funding of all mental health programs, studies, research costs in schools to ensure accountability as determined by results, or lack of. Review, also, how these funds could be re-appropriated towards proven non-psychological/psychiatric teaching methods and extra teachers and tutors.

References

  1. Dr DL Edmunds, They Say My Child Has ‘adhd’ Debunking the Bio-psychiatric Paradigm, presented at the 4th Annual Alternative Education Resources Conference June 2007, Russell Sage College Troy, NY, p.12.
  2. Cathy O’Leary, “Drugged kids, Surge in WA children given stimulants to combat ADHD,” The West Australian, 10 Dec 2014, front page.
  3. Justine Ferrari, “ADHD ‘symptoms’ normal behaviour,” The Australian, 20 August 2008, p.3.
  4. “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Western Australia, Report No.8, 2004,” Western Australia Legislative Assembly, Education and Health Standing Committee, October 2004, p 39. http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/parliament%5Ccommit.nsf/(Report+Lookup+by+Com+ID)/A8838813E981CEE948257831003E9611/$file/ADD+final+report+pdf+version.pdf
  5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision, DSM-IV-TR, American Psychiatric Association, pages 88 & 89; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association, p.61.
  6. “Report for MI1687- 2 Sep 2014, Report 1 A for ADHD, Number of Unique Patients by Patient Age Group and Patient State for requested ADHD items supplied in calendar year 2013,” Australian Government Department of Human Services, Run Date: 29 August 2014.
  7. Paul Fassa, “Prominent psychiatrist admits he helped invent ADHD as a disease,” Natural News, 2 August 2013. http://www.naturalnews.com/041607_psychiatry_ADHD_fake_diseases.html
  8. Kate Sikora, “ADHD drugs pushed,” Daily Telegraph, 12 July 2008, p.8; Anthony Deceglie & Elini Hale, “New row on ADHD drug rule: Fears for children,” The Sunday Times, 20 July 2008, p.3.
  9. “Draft Clinical Practice Points on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents,” Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, 2011, p.15
  10. “Health Advice on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):Questions and Answers; Clinical Practice Points on the Diagnosis, Assessment and Management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents (the CPPs), Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, p.3. “Clinical Practice Points on the Diagnosis, Assessment and Management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents,” Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, 2012, pages 8 & 20.
  11. Clinical Practice Points on the Diagnosis, Assessment and Management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents,” Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, 2012, p.16.
  12. “Raine ADHD study: Long term outcomes associated with stimulant medication in the treatment of ADHD in children,” Government of Western Australia Department of Health, Feb 2010, p.6. https://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/MICADHD_Raine_ADHD_Study_report_022010.pdf
  13. “Raine ADHD study: Long term outcomes associated with stimulant medication in the treatment of ADHD in children,” Government of Western Australia Department of Health, Feb 2010, p.6. https://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/MICADHD_Raine_ADHD_Study_report_022010.pdf
  14. “Drug Class Review on Pharmacological Treatments for ADHD, Final Report,” Oregon Health and Science University, Dec 2007, p.16.
  15. Generate reports on TGA website for atomoxetine, methylphenidate, lisdexamfetamine and dexamfetamine at: https://www.tga.gov.au/database-adverse-event-notifications-daen These reports were generated by CCHR on 8 August 2016; Freedom of Information Request Number 016-0506, Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing, Therapeutic Goods Administration, 2006.
  16. Medicines Safety Update, Volume 4, Number 5, October 2013, “Atomoxetine and suicidality in children and adolescents, Therapeutic Goods Administration, https://www.tga.gov.au/publication-issue/medicines-safety-update-volume-4-number-5-october-2013#atomoxetine
  17. Generate a report on TGA website for atomoxetine at: https://www.tga.gov.au/database-adverse-event-notifications-daen ; Medicines Safety Update, Volume 4, Number 5, October 2013, “Atomoxetine and suicidality in children and adolescents,” Therapeutic Goods Administration, https://www.tga.gov.au/publication-issue/medicines-safety-update-volume-4-number-5-october-2013#atomoxetine
  18. Jon Jureidini, “Systematic checks can avert crisis from adverse drug reactions,” The Weekend Australian, 1-2 April 2006.
  19. Chris P Stephnson, Emily Karanges and Ian S McGregor, “Trends in the utilisation of psychotropic medications in Australia from 2000 to 2011,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 6 December 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23144164
  20. Kelly Patricia O’Meara & Zoli Simon, “Netherlands Panel Rejects ADHD Diagnosis as a Mental Illness,” Insight Magazine (Washington, D.C.), 9 Sept. 2002.
  21. http://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid=2512
  22. Justine Ferrari, “Alert over ADHD Guidelines,” The Australian, 19 August 2008, p.11.
  23. “Republican National Convention: George W Bush Cements Nomination, Cheney Accepts Vice Presidential Nod; Ford Hospitalized,” Larry King Live, CNN.com transcripts, aired 2 August 2000.