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Your school is bad? Have some Adderall!

October 12, 2012

This article discusses the growing popularity of prescribing ADHD medications to children who do not have the disorder. Eager to see their children succeed academically, many parents have sought medical advice on how to easily and cheaply improve their children’s grades. While powerful amphetamines such as Adderall and Ritalin are typically only prescribed to children with ADD or ADHD, some doctors see it as a sort of “cure-all” when it comes to academic woes. One outspoken proponent of such use is Doctor Michael Anderson, a pediatrician in Cherokee County, Georgia, north of Atlanta. According to Anderson, his practice of prescribing drugs such as Adderall creates a level playing field for low-income families. Anderson cites the severe degree of educational inequality between low and high income areas: “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”


Are low-income schools really inadequate to the point where we as a society would rather hook our kids on amphetamines instead of providing funds to improve our education system as a whole? The US currently allocates 14% of our annual budget to education, yet the numbers show that those funds are being distributed very poorly. In 2004, the Education Trust published a report which found that the nationwide educational funding gap between low-poverty (top 25%) and high-poverty students (bottom 25%) was an astounding average of $1,348 per student (edtrust). This is alarming, since unequal levels of education help to solidify barriers to class mobility, and an uneducated population is bad for society as a whole.


As the Presidential debates continue, education and healthcare continue to be referenced as commodities that can be “written off” to curb spending and deficits. However, proponents of educational cutbacks fail to realize that education is a source of economic and societal revenue. While investing in education now takes money out of our collective pockets, its long-term benefits far outweigh its short-term costs. Cutting education (a significant source of future revenue) can be thought of in an economic sense as an austerity measure, a practice that countries like Greece have shown to be ineffective. Unfortunately for our country as a whole, drastic educational reform is nowhere in sight. Since we are unwilling to pay the price of improving education, what ARE we willing to pay?


While many lives are improved significantly by ADD and ADHD prescriptions, these drugs are not without their side effects. Short-term side effects include high blood pressure, restlessness, severe insomnia, sexual impotence, anxiety, anorexia, insomnia, and in some cases psychotic episodes. While treatment of ADHD with amphetamines like Adderall is a relatively new trend, some long-term effects have been noticed. One of the most significant is amphetamine dependence, which can be very difficult to treat. The US government has classified the drug as Schedule II, meaning that the drug has an accepted medical use, but also a high risk for dependence and abuse. Due to the stimulant effect of the medication, the heart is also strained. These drugs can permanently increase blood pressure, and put patients at a higher risk for heart complications later in life. While the long-term effects on the brain have so far been found to be mostly positive, some animal studies have shown that these drugs can increase the amount of free radicals in the brain. The jury is currently split on the efficacy of antioxidants and danger of free radicals, but further research could give us a more complete answer.

So, who should we prescribe the drug to? One family told Dr. Anderson that two of their children receiving ADHD medications from him do not have ADHD. Surprised, Anderson consulted the kids’ medical charts. After finding that these kids fit the criteria for ADHD, he attacked the specification of the illness. He believes that the problem is the binary nature of the diagnosis; you either have it, or you don’t. He feels that there should be a spectrum of classification, rather than a yes or no answer. Seeing that the number of diagnoses continues to grow, many doctors have come to the same conclusion: the real short-term costs of academic failure and dropping out are far greater than the potential future side effects of amphetamine use. If we continue to undervalue education, the prescriptions will continue to be written.



Long Term Effects of Adderall


Kevin Carrie

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 26, 2012 1:35 am

    I like your approach to this study. You take a look at both sides and get all the information for your summary. My brother was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 18 and is currently taking Adderall with his diagnosis. He was sent here from his mother because he was flunking out of High School and with this medication, he finished his last two years of high school with a 4.0 GPA. The change in structure at our home was potentially the biggest thing that helped this, but it also, I believe, was the ability to focus on his homework. Now living with him for several years and seeing the difference between medicated and non-medicated, I believe that his medication is very necessary. With your post, you show that there aren’t many long term affects, but it worries me that this may result in something harmful to my brother. This article has opened my eyes to the current issue with the medication that is being prescribed and what is occuring in the medical world as well.- Kailie Ikard

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