White Prescriptions? the Dangerous Social Potential for Ritalin and Other Psychotropic Drugs to Harm Black Males

By Lipford, Kristie J. | The Journal of Negro Education, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview
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White Prescriptions? the Dangerous Social Potential for Ritalin and Other Psychotropic Drugs to Harm Black Males


Lipford, Kristie J., The Journal of Negro Education


White Prescriptions? The Dangerous Social Potential for Rilalin and Other Psychotropic Drugs to Harm Black Males, by Terence D. Fitzgerald. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2009, 210 pp., $31.95, paperback.

White Prescriptions?: The Dangerous Social Potential for Ritalin and Other Psychotropic Drugs to Harm Black Males discusses racial trends in the "age of Ritalin" and illustrates how psychotropic medications are covertly used to control African American boys. The book stems from Terence Fitzgerald's professional experiences as a school social worker and a camp site director. He and his staff were regularly responsible for administering prescription drugs to such a substantial number of children that the staff began jokingly, yet privately, referring to themselves as "pill pushers." Based on these incidents, Fitzgerald sees the prescribing and administering of medication to African American pre- and adolescent males as a crucial social problem, and nothing more but an extension of the racial and gender dynamics in the larger society. Fitzgerald's overall thesis is that Black male students are being over-medicated in order to exert control and power over them, particularly in educational settings. This in turn reinforces a "White racial frame," which is "an organized set of racialized ideas, stereotypes, emotions, and inclinations to discriminate" (p. x). Fitzgerald supports his argument with conflict theory and explains the education system as an institution that ". . . remains a primary location for the reproduction of racism, control, and oppression" (p. 32). This theoretical lens allows Fitzgerald to show how and why African American boys are being disproportionally "diagnosed" by teachers resulting in the administering of Ritalin and other behavior altering drugs.

In the first few chapters, Fitzgerald provides a historical backdrop and informs readers that Ritalin emerged as a pharmaceutical stimulant in the mid- 19th century. Not surprisingly, African American youth were sampled as initial test markets; children who were undergoing psychotherapy were given Ritalin to test the effects of the drug on treatment. Fitzgerald notes that prescribing behavioral stimulants was historically seen as "appropriate treatment to bad parenting" (p. 62) and "were promoted to control the behavior of unruly children" (p. 63). Currently, Ritalin and other drugs such as Adderall and Sfratterà are used to "control" behaviors attributed to attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, and several other similar conditions; for example, ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), CD (conduct disorder), and ED (emotionally disturbed).

Fitzgerald takes three issues with medicating African American boys. The first issue is the lack of prescription oversight. Studies have indicated that "many children are prescribed stimulants without any official diagnoses from a psychiatrist" (p. 58). The second issue is the culture of medicalization in our society. The willingness and societal acceptance of drug use is so pervasive that is widely acceptable to intervene pharmaceutically when and if a child is deemed "uncontrollable." The third and probably the most significant issue that Fitzgerald presents is: Who is saying the child is "uncontrollable"?

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