By Evelyn Pringle
The founders of Ablechild, Patricia Weathers and Sheila Matthews, have earned the title of “Unsung Heroes,” as both pioneers and warriors for over a decade, in the battle to protect children from the Psychopharmaceutical Industry.
Ablechild (Parents for A Label and Drug-Free Education), is a national non-profit founded in 2001, by these two mothers who each had personal experiences with being coerced by the public school system to label and drug their children for ADHD. Patty and Sheila went from being victims to become national advocates for the fundamental rights of all parents and children in the US.
Now with thousands of members, Ablechild acts as an independent advocate on behalf of parents whose children have been subjected to mental health screening and psychiatric labeling and drugging, and as a proponent for children in foster care who are improperly treated with psychotropic drugs, many times off-label, without informed consent.
Long Battle Against Coerced Drugging
Roughly eight years ago, on September 26, 2002, then Chairman the US House Government Reform Committee, Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN), held a hearing on the “Overmedication of Hyperactive Children,” prompted by a series in the New York Post.
“It’s estimated that 4 to 6 million children in the United States take Ritalin every single day,” Burton said in his opening statement. He pointed out that Ritalin was a Schedule II stimulant under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, that research showed it was a more potent transport inhibitor than cocaine, and use in the US had increased over a 500% since 1990. The Schedule II category also includes drugs such as cocaine, morphine, and Oxycontin.
On one side of the issue, Burton said, they would hear from the associations of psychiatrists and an organization known as Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), and they believed 13% of the US population suffered from an attention disorder and it should be treated with medication.
At the other end of the discussion, he said, was the Citizens Commission for Human Rights (CCHR), and concerned parents, who challenged the legitimacy of calling ADHD a neurobiological disorder and raised questions about giving psychiatric drugs to children. Two of these “concerned parents” were Patty Weathers and Neil Bush, the brother of then President Bush, who was pressured by a private school in Houston to drug his son with Ritalin after he was misdiagnosed with ADHD by the school.
Unsung Hero – Patty Weathers
At the hearing, Patty testified about the ordeal she and her son, Michael, went through in a public school in New York State that began in 1997. When Michael entered first grade, the teacher told Patty his learning development was not normal and he would not be able to learn without medication. “Near the end of first grade, the school principal took me into her office and said that unless I agreed to put Michael on medication, she would find a way to transfer him to a special education center,” Patty told the committee.
At this point, his teacher filled out an actor’s profile for boys, an ADHD checklist, and sent it to his pediatrician, she said. “This checklist, along with a 15-minute evaluation by the pediatrician, led to my son being diagnosed with ADHD and put on Ritalin.” Michael was not given a physical exam prior to the prescribing of Ritalin and no exams were conducted during appointments when refills for prescriptions were written.
“I would never have subjected my son to being labeled with a mental disorder if I had known that it was a subjective diagnosis,” Patty told the panel. “I would not have allowed my son to be administered drugs if I had been given full information about the documented side effects and the risks.”
“At no time was I offered any alternatives to my son’s needs, such as tutoring or standard medical testing.” she said. “The school’s one and only solution was to have my child drugged.” Early on, Michael experienced the common side effects of Ritalin, such as sleep problems and loss of appetite, and by the third grade, Michael became withdrawn, stopped socializing with other children, and began chewing on pencils and other objects. He was then put on Dextrostat, an amphetamine, which only worsened the problems.
But instead of recognizing the drug side effects, the school psychologist then claimed Michael had either bipolar or social anxiety disorder and needed to see a psychiatrist. The psychologist gave Patty the number for a psychiatrist to call and the psychiatrist talked to her and Michael for a short time, and “again, with the aid of school reports, diagnosed him with social anxiety disorder,” she recalled.
Without telling her it was not approved for children, the psychiatrist prescribed the antidepressant, Paxil, saying it was a “wonder drug for kids.” “Those were her exact words,” Patty told the committee. The drug cocktail caused even more horrendous side effects, until Michael’s behavior became so out of character that Patty could not even recognize her own son. “Through this whole ordeal, the school psychologist’s favorite saying was that it was trial and error,” she said. “If one drug didn’t work, try another.”
After watching Michael become violent, psychotic, hear voices and hallucinate, Patty stopped giving him the drugs. Not recognizing that he was going through withdrawal, the psychiatrist wanted to hospitalize Michael and try different sedatives and antipsychotics until they found “the right one,” but Patty refused to allow it. After she became unwilling to give Michael the drugs, “the school threw him out,” she told the panel. “As a final blow, they proceeded to call Child Protective Services on my husband and I, charging us with medical neglect for refusing to drug our child,” she said.
The complaint filed by the school stated in part: “[Michael’s] behavior at school is bizarre: He hears voices and appears delusional, he chews on his clothes and paper, he talks to himself and rambles when he talks.” A month-long investigation cleared the charges and independent psychiatrists determined the bizarre behaviors were caused by the drugs and Michael did not need hospitalization. Medical testing by Dr Mary Ann Block, a Texas osteopathic physician, later showed that Michael suffered from anemia, hypoglycemia and allergies. When those conditions were treated, any attention problems disappeared.
On August 7, 2002, the “New York Post” ran a front-page article featuring Patty’s story. Within a few days, over 65 parents came forward to describe similar stories of coercion and intimidation used by school districts to strong arm them into drugging their kids.
Unsung Hero – Sheila Matthews
Connecticut mom, Sheila Matthews, turned on the TV one day and saw Patty testifying on C-Span at a hearing titled, “Behavioral Drugs in Schools,” on September 29, 2000, before the US House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Sheila immediately related with Patty because she was then going through what she would later call the “ADHD nightmare,” of being pressured to put her 7-year-old son on Ritalin, after he was screened and diagnosed with ADHD by a school psychologist, with claims he would “self-medicate” and end up a drug addict if she did not medicate him.
While testifying at this hearing, Patty explained that being labeled made Michael feel worse about himself and “like a freak” because he “had to be drugged to go to school.” She also voiced her concerns for other families over the intimidation tactics used by schools to coerce parents into drugging their children. “If I didn’t have family members who were willing to financially back my son and I in my son’s cause, it is entirely possible that my son would have ended up in a psychiatric ward,” she told the panel.
That very day, Sheila made up her mind to expose the misleading information being given to parents about so-called mental disorders in public schools and expose the coercive tactics being used on parents who refused to label and drug their children.
She wanted to meet Patty so she contacted the Congressional office and they put her in touch with Marla Filidei, Vice President of CCHR International. Marla hooked her up with Patty, and together, they founded Ablechild.
Over the past ten years, Patty and Sheila have become national spokespersons. The normally shy, quiet Patty has made appearances on more than two dozen media programs including ABC’s Good Morning America, the Today Show on NBC, Hannity & Colmes on Fox, CNN’s Lou Dobbs, A&E’s Investigative Reports, and Montel Williams.
She has also been interviewed for stories in major newspapers including the New York Times, New York Post, USA Today, and Christian Science Monitor, as well as Time, People and Redbook magazines, and has been interviewed by Gary Null, Sean Hannity, Michael Regan, and other popular radio talk show hosts.
In February 2001, Patty received a “Human Rights Award,” from CCHR, and was recognized for standing up against the injustice of psychiatric labeling and drugging of children in public schools at the group’s annual banquet. Sheila received an award from CCHR in 2002, and was recognized for her hard work and role as national spokesperson.
Sheila has also appeared on TV numerous times including shows on CNN, NBC and Fox, and has been interviewed on many talk radio programs. Her story has also been featured in major newspapers and magazines including the Boston Globe, USA Today, Insight News, and the Hartford Courant, as well as Time Magazine and the Ladies Home Journal.
In her home state of Connecticut, Sheila worked with State Representative, Lenny Winkler (a nurse by trade), to secure passage of the first state law in the country that restricts schools from suggesting psychiatric diagnosing and drugging of any child as a condition of attending school. She testified before the Connecticut State Assembly about her own personal experience with the school trying to pressure her to put her son on Ritalin and the lack of validity of the disorders children are being labeled with.
Sheila was with the Connecticut Governor when he signed the bill into law in 2001 and told USA Today that she was thrilled “because it gives parents an awareness that there should be a clear difference between education and medication.”
“No other industry has total access to our children the way the psychiatric community does, and I think this new law is just the beginning of changes to come,” she told Kelly Patricia O’Meara, in an interview for Insight News.
“Kids should be off-limits as targets of convenience for the drug industry,” Sheila said. “I want the mental-health industry out of our schools.”
However, any victory celebration was short lived because in September 2001, a number of family orientated magazines began running the first ever ads for ADHD drugs. “It seems like every time we take a step forward, they come back and hit us harder,” Patty told Time Magazine.
After the Connecticut law was passed, Sheila continued to work with other parents on state and federal levels to pass similar bills. By 2003, seven states had passed laws against schools coercing parents to drug their children or expelling students whose parents refused to medicate them.
On a national level, both Sheila and Patty made many trips to Washington to educate lawmakers. In September 2001, Patty and CCHR’s Bruce Wiseman and Marla Filidei, briefed legislators at a national congress of the “National Foundation of Women Legislators,” and gained their unanimous approval of a model law in the “Child Medication Safety Act (CMSA),” which mandates that: “State educational agencies develop and implement policies and procedures that will prohibit school personnel from requiring a child to obtain a prescription for a controlled substance such as Ritalin as a condition of attending school or receiving services.”
In both October and November of 2001, Sheila traveled to Washington with Marla and Lawrence Smith, whose 11-year-old son died of a heart attack caused by Ritalin, to meet with key lawmakers and discuss the crisis of children being diagnosed and drugged in schools and the need for federal legislation to end it. They also worked with Congressional staff to get co-sponsors for the CMSA
In July 2002, the nationally syndicated columnist and radio show host, Armstrong Williams, featured Sheila, Patty and Lawrence Smith in a radio show on safeguarding children from being labeled and drugged in public schools.
The next month, Patty appeared on NBC’s “Today Show,” on August 8, 2002, and the same day, the “New York Post,” ran an article reporting that Patty was calling for a state wide tracking system to determine how widespread forced drugging was in schools.On September 24, 2002, Patty was a guest on Hannity & Colmes on Fox, and was interviewed on CNN’s “Talk Back Live,” two days later. The next month, Patty and Michael were both guests on the “John Walsh Show,” on NBC. Patty was also featured in a Discovery Channel program that month with pediatrician, Dr Lawrence Diller, and psychiatrist, Dr Peter Breggin, which focused on the over-drugging of kid for ADHD.
Strongest Foe Funded by ADHD Drug Makers
In March 2003, Patty, Michael, and Sheila appeared on a Montel Williams show on promoting “A Parents Right to Choose,” along with Connecticut Rep, Lenny Winkler, Bruce Wiseman, Patricia Marks, Dr Mary Ann Block, and Vicky and Steve Dunkle, whose 10-year-old daughter died from Desipramine toxicity, after the antidepressant was prescribed for ADHD as a result of pressure from school officials to medicate the child.
The guests covered everything from the subjective diagnosis of mental disorders, with no confirming medical testing, to the many side effects of psychiatric drugs, to the fact that most children involved in school shootings were on psychiatric drugs. They warned that due to coercion in schools, parents all over the country were losing the right to choose whether their kids would take powerful drugs, including stimulants, referred to as “kiddie cocaine.” At the end of the program, Montel asked the audience to write to Congress asking for federal legislation against the coerced drugging of school children.
After the show aired, CHADD, the main front group for the stimulant makers, organized a letter writing campaign to Montel, who they said “mocked” ADHD, as part of responding to “offensive media depictions” of ADHD, they claimed in CHADD’s 2002-2003 Annual Report.
The group also published an open letter to Montel, saying no one would “dispute that unnecessarily placing a child on medication is deplorable.”
“But the greater travesty is delaying proper diagnosis and effective treatment for those who truly need it,” CHADD said. “The sad truth is that many more children with mental disorders slip unrecognized past the gatekeepers of mental health services than those who are improperly diagnosed.”
In April 2003, Ablechild issued a press release blasting CHADD for lobbying against the CMSA with claims that only a “handful” of incidents had occurred involving parents being coerced by schools to drug their children.
In lobbying to CHADD’s membership, the group’s CEO, E Clarke Ross, used the electronic newsletter, “News from CHADD,” to raise questions about whether the problem was common enough to require federal legislation and called such cases “isolated and highly publicized.” Because a number of states and school boards had passed laws or resolutions, Ross claimed the federal bill was “legislative overkill.”
However, for a May 13, 2003 investigative report on the CMSA published in “Insight Magazine,” in which Ross again referred to “a few highly publicized cases,” Kelly Patricia O’Meara interviewed Mike Stokke, deputy chief of staff to the Speaker of the House at the time, and found cases of school personnel demanding that parents drug children as a condition of staying in school were far from isolated in numbers or areas.
In case after case, Stokke told Insight, “when we started meeting some of these families who have been through this problem, such as in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we saw the coercive action of the state come in and say that the teacher says you have to take these drugs.”
“And if you don’t it’s child neglect and the child is taken away from the parents,” he said.“Many of the parents that we talk to are people who have the means to fight back but what is troubling,” he said, “is that there are many families out there in similar situations who don’t have the means to fight the system.”
In the press release, Ablechild noted that CHADD was only opposing the CMSA because its livelihood was at stake being the group was funded by stimulant makers. Complaints about the funneling of money through CHADD, to increase drug sales and the diagnosis of ADHD, were discussed at length during the September 29, 2002, hearing on the use of behavioral drugs in schools. Portions of a 1995 report on the matter, by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, were even read into the record.
“It has recently come to the attention of the DEA that Ciba-Geigy, the manufacturer of Ritalin, marketing under the brand name Ritalin, contributed $748,000 to CHADD from 1991 to ’94,” the agency reported. “The DEA has concerns that the depth of the financial relationship with the manufacturer was not well known to the public, including CHADD members, that have relied upon CHADD for guidance as it pertains to the diagnosis and treatment of their children,” it wrote.
The agency was particularly concerned that most of the ADHD material prepared for public consumption by CHADD, and made available to parents, did not address the potential or actual abuse of Ritalin. Instead, it was portrayed as a benign, mild substance that’s not associated with abuse or any serious side effects.
CHADD received $848,000 from Novartis in 2001, according to testimony at the hearing.
Kids Disabled for Cash
On its website, CHADD provides a link to a webpage on “Disability Benefits,” and tells parents that some kids with ADHD can be declared disabled and receive benefits including “cash payments,” under the federal Supplemental Security Income program.
“Children under age 18 who have disabilities, including some children with AD/HD, can receive SSI if they meet eligibility criteria,” CHADD says. “The SSI program can provide monthly cash payments based on family income, qualify the child for Medicaid health care services in many states, and ensure referral of a child into the system of care available under State Title V programs for Children with Special Health Care Needs.”
At the congressional hearing ten years ago, Colorado Representative, Bob Schaffer, reported concerns about Federal cash incentives to label children with ADHD, and specifically the two that resulted in cash payments to parents and schools. In 1990, the SSI program made low-income parents eligible for a cash benefit of more than $450 a month for each ADHD child, and in 1991, the Department of Education made it so schools could receive more than $400 a year for students with ADHD, under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Both cash incentives coincided with a dramatic rise in the number of children labeled with ADHD. In 1989, children citing mental impairments, including ADHD but not retardation, made up only 5% of disabled kids on SSI. But that figure rose to nearly 25% by 1995. Between 1990 and 1992, the number of ADHD diagnoses jumped from about one million to over three million, Schaffer informed the committee.
The IDEA also had a “child find” provision which required states to actively seek out kids who may qualify for special education in order to receive Federal special education funds, Patti Johnson, a member of the Colorado State Board of Education, told the panel. In many states, schools had also become authorized Medicaid providers and collected funds for children labeled with one of the learning or behavior disorders, she reported.
“Between SSI, Medicaid and IDEA, we have turned schools into aggressive identifiers of disabled children,” Schaffer told the panel. “Without a doubt we are subsidizing the aggressive pursuit of children with disabilities.”
“It is not resulting in accurate diagnosis,” he said. “It is resulting in an over diagnosis.”
Roughly a decade after the hearing, the new book, “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America,” by Robert Whitaker, reports that the number of kids receiving SSI checks due to mental illness increased 35-fold between 1987 and 2007, from 16,200 to 561,569.
Drug Money Pours In
Despite non-stop criticism over being in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry, money from ADHD drug makers continues to pour into CHADD year after year.
The group’s Income & Expense Reports, show CHADD received $507,000 in 2002, $674,000 in 2003, and five years later, the amounts nearly tripled. For the fiscal year of July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008, CHADD received a total of $1,205,000, from Eli Lilly, J&J’s McNeil division, Novartis, Shire US, and UCB. In addition, 64% of sales and advertising, or $466,104, came from drug companies.
The next year’s report shows CHADD received a total of $1,174,626, from Lilly, J&J’s McNeil division, Novartis, and Shire, and 57.2 % of sales and advertising, or $412,500, was from drug companies.
For the year 2008, Lilly’s full year grant report lists a $200,000 donation to CHADD. The 2008 IRS filing for the Eli Lilly Foundation also shows a $50,000 gift, a drop from the $100,000 given to CHADD in 2007. Lilly’s 2009 grant report lists a $130,000 donation and the first quarter report for 2010 shows a $50,000 grant for CHADD. Lilly is the only ADHD drug maker required to post grant reports online, so there is no way to break down how much money is pouring into CHADD from the other companies.
The group’s 2008 IRS filing lists CHADD’s most significant activity as, “provides support for individuals with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders.” Yet the non-profit blew $330,000 on its annual conference and another $114,950 on a 20th Anniversary Gala that same year, according to the 2008 I&E report.
Also, in sharp contrast to the yearly SSI income of about $8,000 for persons disabled by ADHD, the group’s 2008-2009 tax forms lists compensation for CEO Ross as $187,747, and the next two highest paid officials of this “non-profit” earn $130,217 and $121,095.
On May 21, 2003, the CMSA passed by a landslide vote of 425-1 in the House. On May 27, 2003, Sheila and Patty appeared on the national radio show “Scams and Scandals,” for a program about the need for the Act to end the abuse of parents by schools. During the show, they asked all parents who had experienced abuse similar to theirs to go online and sign Ablechild’s petition.
The next month, Sheila was featured in her hometown newspaper, “The New Canaan Advertiser,” in a front-page article on June 5, 2003 with the headline: “Mother pushing Congress to prevent schools from ADD testing,” with details of her campaign to enact federal legislation. The article profiled AbleChild, and criticized CHADD for its industry funding and opposition to the CMSA.
When public health officials in the UK and US announced that Paxil increased the risk of suicide in children in June 2003, Sheila pushed her Governor’s office to issue a press release warning against the use of Paxil with kids. In July 2003, the Associated Press reported that the Department of Children and Family Services in Connecticut planned to stop using Paxil to treat young people with depression.
The “New American,” published an article titled, “Drugging Our Kids,” by William Norman Gregg in August 2003, and covered Patty and Michael’s story in depth, along with similar cases reported by other parents including Neil Bush and two families in which children died as a result of coerced drugging. On February 20, 2004, Patty spoke on the nationally syndicated Joyce Riley radio show, and discussed the need for the CMSA in the wake of recent FDA hearings on the link between antidepressants and suicide, including Paxil, the drug Michael was prescribed.
Patty and Michael were both on CNN’s Lou Dobbs on April 15, 2004. Patty noted the need for the CMSA, evidenced by nearly 1,000 signatures on Ablechild’s website from parents with similar stories. Michael described how bad it felt to be on medications and Patty warned about the lack of informed consent given to parents regarding both the diagnoses of mental disorders and the drugs used as treatment.
The next month, Patty led a protest of hundreds of parents, children and human rights activists at the opening of the American Psychiatric Association’s annual conference in New York City, saying parents were fed up with psychiatrists telling them their children’s behavior was a “mental disorder” requiring dangerous drugs.
Sheila was again featured in her hometown newspaper on May 10, 2004, in an article about the need for an investigation by the Connecticut Attorney General into the drugging of children in foster care. Sheila was quoted throughout and promoted passage of CMSA.
Another federal bill that was introduced as a “Prohibition on Mandatory Medication,” amendment to the IDEA in April 2003, was passed by the House and Senate on May 13, 2004, and banned state and local educational agency personnel from requiring a child to take a drug covered by the Controlled Substance Act as a condition of attending school, receiving an evaluation, or receiving services. Key wording from the CMSA was included in the amendment.
On September 13, 2004, Patty testified at an FDA advisory panel hearing on the need for black box warnings on antidepressants about the risk of suicide and violence. “The FDA had enough evidence 14 years ago to issue these warning labels,” she told the committee.
She also testified about the lack of science behind psychiatric labels given to children. “Parents are told that their child has a chemical imbalance or a neurobiological illness,” she testified. “We risked our child’s life based on this fundamental lie.”
“The FDA is well aware that there are no x-rays, biopsies, blood tests or brain scans that verify these mental disorders as a disease or illness,” she said. “The FDA should not be condoning or approving these drugs without evidence of disease, illness or physical abnormality that would justify risking our children’s lives with a harmful and potentially lethal drug.”
The hearing ended with a vote by the panel in favor of black box warnings.
In November 2004, Patty was interviewed by a French TV producer for a news program in France, similar to 60 Minutes, focused on the pressuring of parents by schools in American to put children on psychiatric drugs. Other guests included Vicky Dunkel and Tom Woodward, whose daughter committed suicide after being prescribed an SSRI.
On February 17, 2005, Patty testified at a hearing titled, “ADHD Diagnosis, Treatment & Consequences,” in New York City, and told the story of what happened when Michael was labeled mentally ill in a public school and she refused to keep drugging him.
“The irony of the whole ordeal was that I was charged with medically neglecting my son, when there was no proof that anything was medically wrong with him,” she testified.
The next month, the “Ladies Home Journal,” ran an article titled, “A Generation out of Control,” with a sub-heading that read: “A record four million children — some as young as 2 — are being diagnosed with ADHD and many are being put on powerful medications, perhaps for life.”
The article featured Sheila, and Patricia Marks, another Connecticut mom whose son was misdiagnosed with ADHD. The article discussed the dangers of teachers diagnosing kids in schools to solve classroom problems and warned parents to make sure and rule out undiagnosed medical conditions that might manifest as ADHD.
Also in March, in letters to the US Attorney for the District of Minnesota and the FDA, Ablechild called for an investigation into the role of antidepressants in a school shooting by Jeff Weise in Red Lake, Minnesota, who was on Prozac when he went on a rampage, killing his grandfather first, and then fellow students and teachers at his school, before committing suicide with the same gun.
In a press release, Ablechild expressed outrage and frustration with the FDA for “continuing to turn a blind eye to the all so obvious link to violence and mania that these drugs are having on our youth, and even more, their deadly link to uncontrolled school terror that has occurred from coast to coast.”
In October 2005, Sheila issued a statement from Ablechild strongly opposing TeenScreen, a program aimed at screening kids for mental illness in schools. “TeenScreen is nothing more than the bio-behavioral health industry’s attempt to garnish big government funding for useless programs that profitably promote a course of recommended psychotropic drug “treatment” which has been clearly liked to suicide and violent behavior,” she warned.
In October 2006, Sheila appeared on “The Big Story,” with John Gibson on Fox, in a segment titled “Investigating the Link: Antidepressants & Violence,” based on recent school shootings in Pennsylvania and Colorado, and spoke of the need to investigate the correlation between psychiatric drugs and school shooters, and toxicology tests to determine whether shooters were on drugs. As the founders of Ablechild, parents came to them all the time, Sheila said. “Their children are committing suicide on these drugs and we’re very concerned.”
At the end of the show, the reporter noted particular concern about the fact that 30 million Americans were taking antidepressants, and being that 5% would develop mania, there could be “a million and a half potential maniacs waiting to explode.”
Focus On Drug Side Effects
Over the years, Ablechild has also focused on educating the pubic on drug side effects and MedWatch, the FDA’s adverse drug reaction reporting system. On December 13, 2006, Sheila testified at the FDA advisory hearing on the risk of suicide with adults on SSRIs and presented the results of two surveys showing a lack of public knowledge about Medwatch, and asked the FDA to initiate campaigns to let consumers know where and how to report ADRs, as consumers detect adverse effects sooner than providers.
In June 2007, Shelia, along with two CCHR representatives, met with Washington lawmakers regarding the renewal of the “Prescription Drug User Fee Act.” The new Act was signed into law in September 2007, with key measures to help increase public knowledge about prescription drug risks, as well as better safety monitoring by the FDA.
On November 6, 2007, Ablechild issued a news alert to warn that despite the black box warnings, the mental health industry was continuing to downplay the suicide risk of antidepressants. Based on information posted within the MedWatch system, “an estimated 63,000 suicides have been committed by people under the influence of antidepressants,” the alert reported.
It also noted that most parents were not aware that at least eight school shooters “were under the influence of antidepressants documented to cause not only suicidal ideation but also mania, psychosis, hostility, hallucinations and even ‘homicidal behavior.’
With 1.5 million children on antidepressants in the US alone, “Ablechild is deeply concerned about the number of children being prescribed the powerful and potentially lethal drugs,” the alert stated.
In December 2007, Sheila called into a National Public Radio program, when the topic was the recently passed FDA reform bill, and discussed a new requirement that all print ads include an 800 number and information on reporting side effects to MedWatch. She also noted the importance of the new clinical drug trial registry that would be available on the internet, and the elimination of conflicts of interest on FDA advisory committees.
Protect Youngest Victims
In 2008, Ablechild teamed up with a coalition of advocacy groups in efforts to protect unborn children and nursing infants from forced drugging through their mothers’ ingestion of drugs, by lobbying against a bill called the “Mothers Act,” for short, aimed at screening pregnant women and new mothers for mental illness.
The Act “quite simply is a feeder line for the psycho-pharmaceutical industry and will result in more mothers and infants being put at risk for being prescribed antidepressants and other dangerous psychiatric drugs,” AbleChild warned in a letter made available on its website for persons to sign and send to members of Congress.
In April 2008, AbleChild and Mathy Downing, whose 12-year-old daughter committed suicide after being given Zoloft off-label for test anxiety, and about 40 more advocacy allies, went to Washington to lobby against the Mother’s Act.
The latest evidence of infants being harmed by psychiatric drugs ingested by their mothers was reported on July 2, 2010, with a Medscape Today headline, “Psychotropic Medications Linked to Serious Adverse Drug Reactions in Children,” for a study by Danish researchers of 4,500 adverse drug reactions (ADRs), in children younger than 17, listed in the national Danish ADR database between 1998 and 2007.
The results showed 429 reports were from psychotropic drugs, with the largest share from stimulants at 42%, followed by antidepressants with 31%, and antipsychotics at 24.5%.
Almost 19%, or 80 of the ADRs, were for children between the age of birth and 2. All but one was serious, with two deaths associated with the SSRIs Celexa and Prozac. These findings were “probably due to the mothers’ intake of psychotropic medicine, primarily antidepressants and antipsychotics, during pregnancy,” the study authors wrote.
In April 2009, Sheila drafted a petition in support of the “Parental Consent Act,” and made it available on Ablechild’s website for persons to sign and send to members of Congress. Introduced by Texas Congressman and physician, Ron Paul, the bill prohibits federal funds from being used to establish or implement any universal or mandatory mental health screening program for public school students and establishes a parent’s right to refuse screening of a child without fear of being charged with child abuse or neglect. In an April 30, 2009 speech, Paul pointed out that “parents are already being threatened with child abuse charges if they resist efforts to drug their children.”
“Imagine how much easier it will be to drug children against their parents’ wishes if a federally-funded mental-health screener makes the recommendation,” he said.
Million Kids Misdiagnosed With ADHD
After a decade of work by Sheila and Patty to expose the fraud behind labeling kids with ADHD, on August 17, 2010, USA Today reported that a new study from Michigan State University found nearly 1 million children may have been misdiagnosed with ADHD, not because of any real behavioral problems, but because they were the youngest in the class. Children who are the youngest in their grades are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest kids, according to the study published in the Journal of Health Economics. In fifth and eighth grade, the youngest children were more than two times as likely to be on Ritalin compared with the oldest students, the study found.
(This article is the first in an on-going series honoring the many “Unsung Heroes” in the two decade battle against the drugging of children by the Psychopharmaceutical industrial Complex).
(Evelyn Pringle is an investigative journalist and researcher focused on exposing corruption in government and corporate America)