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|NUMBER 167||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||DECEMBER 1999|
DENVER, CO -- The Colorado State School Board passed a resolution on November 11 warning of the possible negative effects of psychotropic (mind-altering) prescription drugs on schoolchildren. The vote was 6-1. Board member Patti Johnson drafted the resolution after a number of parents contacted her complaining that they had been "pressured" by educators to put their children on Ritalin.
"I have been actively involved in education since my now-college-age son was in elementary school," she explains. "Im aware that schools receive additional funding for each child who is labeled 'learning disabled,' so I was particularly sensitive to these complaints."
Mrs. Johnson introduced her resolution at the October board meeting following presentations by experts on the possible connection of Ritalin and other prescription drugs to students violent behaviors. The original text was pared from four pages to one prior to its adoption by the board last month (see Resolution this page).
Colorado Eagle Forum leader Jayne Schindler is among many who applaud the board's decision. "We are proud that the Colorado Board of Education is the first in the nation to take this monumental step toward correcting the obvious problems with the diagnoses and potential misdiagnoses of learning disabilities in schoolchildren, and the subsequent treatment of these disabilities with psychotropic drugs," she says.
Eagle Forum was instrumental in focusing attention on these problems by providing research documentation to state school board members and legislators. "This should be the beginning of a national movement by state school boards and legislatures to stem the tide of mind-altering drugs that are arbitrarily prescribed for children," Mrs. Schindler says. She reports that the states of Florida and Texas have already shown an interest in copying the resolution.
Presentations to the Board
Dr. Fred Baughman Jr., M.D., a pediatric neurologist for 35 years, Dr. Ann Tracy, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and health sciences and is the director of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness, and Bruce Wiseman, national president of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a psychiatric watchdog organization, made presentations in support of Patti Johnson's resolution at the October school board meeting. Dr. Baughman stated that "there is no scientific evidence that either Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are scientifically valid disorders or diseases." He told the board that he has been informed by leading health authorities, including the National Institute of Mental Health, that no studies proving the validity of these maladies exist.
Dr. Tracy, who has extensively researched the effects of mind-altering drugs on the brain, noted that there were "approximately 15,000 deaths in 1998 from illegal drug use and over 200,000 reported deaths from the use of legal drugs."
Mr. Wiseman pointed out the instances over the last several years where the perpetrators of school shootings had been diagnosed with depression and were taking some type of antidepressant medication, including Eric Harris, who was on Luvox prior to the rampage at Columbine High School.
Speaking against the resolution was Dr. William Dodson, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado. Dr. Dodson described those opposed to Ritalin as "fear mongering" and "mean spirited." He stated that Ritalin is not addictive and that any side effects are short-lived. He said the criteria used in the diagnoses of ADD and ADHD consistof "a list of questions and a family history," and admitted that even nurse practitioners are considered qualified to prescribe Ritalin and other drugs to schoolchildren in Colorado.
While the school board has no mandate other than providing direction for school policy, the resolution was enthusiastically supported by all but one board member. Board chairman Clair Orr, who voted for the resolution, noted: "We as adults have an obligation to our kids to set the standards." He added that he hopes the boards actions "shine a light on this issue of drugging kids."
Legislature Hears Testimony
On November 8, the Colorado State Legislature convened hearings on the issue of prescription drug use and its possible correlation to school violence. The committee heard testimony from the same professionals who addressed the school board, plus a number of other medical professionals, researchers, representatives of support organizations for people with disabilities, and individuals relating personal stories about the effects of prescription drugs.
Peter R. Breggin, M.D., International Director of the Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology which represents the opinions of about 1,000 doctors worldwide, flew from London to testify at the hearing. He stated that Ritalin and other mind-altering drugs have addictive qualities, and that their effects include suicide and episodes of mania.
Several individuals testified to the reality of ADD and ADHD and in support of Ritalin. Speaking on behalf of herself and Children and Adults With ADD (CHADD), one woman claimed that Ritalin is not a drug, but prescription medicine. She admitted that CHADD gets 10% of its funding from the pharmaceutical companies.
In 1995, CHADD tried to persuade the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to classify Ritalin as a Schedule III drug, which would have made it easier to obtain. Ritalin contains methylphenidate, which, according to the DEA, "is structurally and pharmacologically similar to amphetamines." It was classified as a Schedule II drug in 1971 because it "was so prone to abuse." Other Schedule II drugs include morphine, PCP, methadone, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
The DEA refused CHADDs request, charging that "Most of the ADHD literature prepared for public consumption and available to parents does not address the abuse liability or actual abuse of methylphenidate . . . There is an abundance of scientific literature which indicates that methyphenidate shares the same abuse potential as other Schedule II stimulants."
A significant body of research exists on the possible negative effects of antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, Luvox, Zoloft, and Paxil on both children and adults which include mania, seizures, and cardiovascular problems. According to Dr. Breggin, "The phenomenon of drug-induced manic reactions caused by antidepressants is so widely recognized that it is discussed several times in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association and many times in The Physicians Desk Reference."
ADD & Diet
Those who testified before the Colorado Legislature against the indiscriminate use of Ritalin and other psychotropic drugs concede that "there are, without question, cases where medical therapy is a necessity and a benefit." Retired emergency medical services professional Jim Schindler, who described many prescription drug-related cases, particularly involving seizures, that he has personally witnessed, nonetheless added: "I see no reason or desire on anyone's part to deny those who depend on such methods of treatment access to that treatment, nor to deny such treatment in the future to those who are properly diagnosed."
Therein lies the rub. Many nutrition experts say emotional wellbeing is tied to the 40+ nutrients that humans need for good health, and that conditions such as hyperactivity and depression are often better controlled through diet than drugs.
In her book Lets Eat Right To Keep Fit, Adelle Davis describes the extreme negative effects that can result from deficiencies in vital nutrients. She writes tht the first symptom of biotin (B vitamin) deficiency, for example, is depression. In Chapter 9, she provides details of an experiment in which lack of biotin in adult volunteers caused "mental depression" to become "so intense that it was described as 'panic,' and some volunteers experienced suicidal tendencies. All symptoms disappeared in three to five days after biotin was added to the diet."
Patti Johnson's original four-page version of the Colorado School Board Resolution offers the following observations:
* It is misleading to advise parents that their child needs a mind-altering drug to correct a "chemical imbalance," "neurobiological" or "genetic condition" when science has been unable to establish the existence of such maladies.
* Medical research shows that psychiatric symptoms are often a sign of an undetected medical condition, nutritional deficiency, or allergy.
* The money expended [on behalf of students with ADHD, as reported by the National Institutes of Health] would be better spent on workable academic programs which actually raise the childs level of academic competence and thus his self-esteem.