Putting Power Back in Parental Hands: Legislation Is Being Considered That Would Allow Parents-Not Schools-To Decide Whether Their Children Need to Be Medicated as a Prerequisite for Attending Classes. (the Nation: ADHD)

Article excerpt

Congress soon will vote on legislation that has the psychiatric and mental-health communities agitated. Advocates of the bill say it will return to parents the power to decide whether a child should be medicated to get in school or stay there, and many see this measure as a warning bell for future debate about the legitimacy of childhood psychiatric disorders.

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been scheduled for reauthorization in May as HR 1350. An amendment to it, the Child Medication Safety Act, introduced by Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.), requires no taxpayer funding but 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 other words, the amendment would prohibit teachers and school administrators from requiring a child to take a controlled substance to receive a public education, returning the decision to parents and their physicians. Already a handful of states have passed similar or more stringent guidelines prohibiting schools from requiring that children be drugged to control behavior, and a dozen more states currently are considering such legislation.

Surprisingly, opponents claim it is a battle about who will legislate rather than what will be legislated. E. Clarke Ross, chief executive officer of Children and Adults With Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), the nation's leading nonprofit organization representing individuals with ADHD, even tells INSIGHT that, "We're not opposed to the intent and policy language of the bill." Rather, according to Ross, "The question is whether the government should enact national legislation mandating every school district in America to go through the procedures and process of implementing this legislation." The question, he stresses, is "whether a few highly publicized cases are typical of thousands of people across the country--whether the instances of abuse are so rampant that it requires a national law or bureaucracy."

As an advocacy organization representing 20,000 dues-paying members diagnosed with the alleged psychiatric disorder ADHD, the Ross group reported in its yearly financial statement that last year it received more than $500,000 in financial support from various pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis, the makers of Ritalin, the No. 1 stimulant "treatment" for ADHD. And as an advocacy group representing people with ADHD, the CHADD lobby supports the mental-health community's theory that ADHD is a "real" disorder and further reports that it "disseminates the science-based information" about ADHD. INSIGHT asked Ross to describe the scientific information disseminated by CHADD to support its contention that ADHD is a brain disease.

"The surgeon general of the United States [David Satcher]," Ross explains, "called ADHD a brain disorder with a neurological origin in his 1999 Report on Mental Health. It's not a CHADD position, it's the surgeon general's position." While the former surgeon general did suggest that ADHD is a brain disorder with a neurological origin, no conclusive scientific evidence was presented in the report to support the theory.

Moreover, later in that same report the surgeon general emphasized "the diagnosis of mental disorders is often believed to be more difficult than diagnosis of somatic or general medical disorders since there is no definitive lesion, laboratory test or abnormality in brain tissue that can identify the illness." Trouble is that this statement also applies to the diagnosis of ADHD, though CHADD did not disseminate the surgeon general's caveat as part of the "science."

In an effort to get the "science" it favors to its membership, CHADD also cites the 1998 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Statement that "there is evidence supporting the validity of the [ADHD] disorder. …