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The Wave of Evil: New Report on ADHD Drugs Blowback

Posted: 07/16/09 11:51 AM ET

"The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

The wave of evil washes not only the financial-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, the energy-industrial complex, and predatory executives at AIG, Citibank, Halliburton, Blackwater/Xe, Enron, and Exxon. The pharmaceutical-industrial complex has virtually annexed the mental health profession, whose all-star opportunist team is captained by Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Biederman, the high-profile doctor most responsible for the explosion of kids on psychiatric drugs, first for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and then for bipolar disorder.

In 2008, Biederman was nailed by Congressional investigators for taking $1.6 million from drug makers from 2000 to 2007 and failing to report most of this loot to his university, a major conflict of interest in violation of the rules. In a February 26, 2009 deposition given by Biederman to several states attorneys (who were claiming that makers of antipsychotic drugs defrauded state Medicaid programs by improperly marketing their medicines), Biederman was asked what rank he held at Harvard.

"Full professor," Biederman answered.

"What's after that?" asked one state attorney, Fletch Trammell.

"God," Biederman responded.

"Did you say God?" Trammell asked.

"Yeah," Biederman said.

As part of this legal proceeding, Biederman was forced to provide documents relating to his interactions with Johnson & Johnson, the giant pharmaceutical company. These documents included presentations he made over several years summarizing the work of his center financed by Johnson & Johnson. On March 20, 2009, the New York Times reported that Biederman pitched Johnson & Johnson that his proposed research studies on its antipsychotic drug Risperdal would turn out favorably for Johnson & Johnson -- and then Biederman delivered the goods. The Times also reported that in 2005 Biederman proposed a study on adolescents using the ADHD-drug Concerta, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, and he assured the company that his study would "extend to adolescents positive findings with Concerta." And in 2006, Biederman was co-author of a study showing that children given Concerta for a prolonged period did not have reduced growth, allaying a significant concern about the medicine -- but in contradiction to what has now been established.

For decades, the majority of American doctors, mental health professionals, the media, and the general public have yielded to the disseminations of Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Biedeman who successfully evangelized for more children -- and younger children -- to be medicated with powerful psychiatric drugs.

The blowback from ADHD drugs is reported in the current July 2009 Scientific American Mind article "Do ADHD Drugs Take a Toll on the Brain?" a comprehensive report of the long-term dangers of ADHD drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, and Vyvanse.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated in 2005 that 9% of boys and 4% of girls in the U.S. were taking ADHD stimulant medications; and according to a 2007 study, ADHD-drug prescriptions rose by almost 12 percent a year between 2000 and 2005.

ADHD drugs are either the "amphetamine-like" methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin and Concerta) or actual amphetamines (e.g., Adderall and Vyvanse), so it should not be surprising that long-term use is associated with many hazards. The current Scientific American Mind piece, authored by Edmund S. Higgins, clinical associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina states, "Methylphenidate has a chemical structure similar to that of cocaine and acts on the brain in a very similar way." In February 2009, neuroscientists at the Rockefeller University reported cocaine-like structural and chemical alterations in the brains of mice given methylphenidate.

It is common for cocaine addicts to experience depression, anxiety and cognitive problems, and mental health authorities have long reported that ADHD as a "risk factor" for other mental health problems but have neglected to take seriously the possibility that it is the ADHD-drug treatment itself that contributes to higher rates of other emotional and cognitive difficulties. The current Scientific American Mind article reports: "At least three studies using animals hint that exposure to methylphenidate during childhood may alter mood in the long run, perhaps raising the risk of depression and anxiety in adulthood."

"Amphetamines such as Adderall could alter the mind in other ways," continues the Scientific American Mind piece. A team at the Yale University School of Medicine documented long-lasting behavioral oddities such as hallucinations and cognitive impairment in rhesus monkeys that received injected doses of amphetamines. Compared with controls, the drug-treated monkeys also displayed deficits in working memory that persisted for at least three years after exposure to the drug.

A research team at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine trained baboons and squirrel monkeys to orally self-administer an Adderall-like drug for two to four weeks, and the team found evidence of amphetamine-induced brain damage, specifically, lower levels of dopamine and fewer dopamine transporters on nerve endings in amphetamine-treated primates than in untreated animals. "One possible consequence of a loss of dopamine and its associated molecules is Parkinson's disease, a movement disorder that can also lead to cognitive deficits," notes Scientific American Mind. A study in humans published in 2006 hints at a link between Parkinson's and a prolonged exposure to amphetamine in any form.

It has also now been scientifically established -- in contradiction to Biederman's findings -- that ADHD drugs stunt growth in humans. In a 2007 National Institute of Mental Health study of ADHD treatments involving 579 seven- to ten-year-olds over three years time, the growth rates of unmedicated children were compared to the growth rates of children who took ADHD stimulants throughout that period. Compared to the unmedicated children, the ADHD drug-treated children showed a decrease in growth rate (on average, two fewer centimeters in height and 2.7 kilograms less in weight). This growth-stunting effect stopped by the third year, but the children on ADHD drugs never caught up to their counterparts.

In my clinical experience, there are many children whose only problem in life is not doing their homework but who are medicated with ADHD drugs; and the majority of their parents had no idea that they were giving their children amphetamines or amphetamine-like substances. Unfortunately, too many Americans are willing to surrender their own authority to damn near every pompous authoritarian rather than question the legitimacy of exploitive industrial complexes and the predatory people at the top of them.

Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D
, is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).