The Globe and Mail, By Margaret Wente
June 18, 2013
In the past few years, ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – has become the go-to diagnosis for kids who can’t sit still in school. Today, almost every class includes some kid who’s on Ritalin, Adderall or another stimulant. These medications calm them down and improve their focus. But astonishingly, their long-term effects are largely unknown. We’ve been conducting a vast, uncontrolled experiment on our children, with no idea whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
A startling new study of thousands of Canadian children should make us think hard. It found that overall, these drugs have no long-term benefits whatsoever. If anything, kids on Ritalin had worse outcomes than other kids.
The authors of the study took advantage of a “natural experiment” that began in 1997. That year, Quebec introduced mandatory drug insurance – the only province in the country to do so. When access to drugs expanded, Ritalin prescriptions shot up. Within a decade, children in Quebec were using Ritalin at twice the rate of children in the rest of Canada. By 2007, 44 per cent of Canada’s ADHD prescriptions were being written in Quebec.
One of the authors of the study is Mark Stabile, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Toronto. If Ritalin is beneficial, he told me, then long-term school performance – as measured by indicators such as graduation rates and math scores – should improve. But the study found no such improvement. In fact, it found that boys who had taken Ritalin were more likely to drop out of school, and girls were more likely to be unhappy and depressed. “Overall, we find considerable evidence of a decline in both behavioural and educational outcomes following the increase in prescription drug coverage and the corresponding increase in Ritalin use,” the authors concluded.
“We went into this thinking we’d see benefits,” says Prof. Stabile. “We were surprised.”
It’s not that stimulants make kids dumber. But when they quiet down and become less disruptive, everybody thinks the problem has been solved. The behavioural problems may have gone away. But the underlying issues go unaddressed, and so these kids may not get the extra help they need with learning and math. As Prof. Stabile puts it, “Ritalin is keeping the problem quiet.”
Read full article here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/does-ritalin-really-help/article12608922/
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