Why Are Low-Income Kids Being Prescribed Drugs They Don’t Need?

Physicians are prescribing drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to low-income kids even if they haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD because they say it’s the only way to boost their academic performance.

The New York Times reported last week:

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

Dr. Anderson is one of the more outspoken proponents of an idea that is gaining interest among some physicians. They are prescribing stimulants to struggling students in schools starved of extra money — not to treat A.D.H.D., necessarily, but to boost their academic performance.

There is a disturbing pattern here: a huge increase in the number of struggling students being prescribed meds like Ritalin and Adderall, mostly in underfunded, inadequate schools.

Here’s how one mom describes her situation to The New York Times:

For some parents the pills provide great relief. Jacqueline Williams said she can’t thank Dr. Anderson enough for diagnosing A.D.H.D. in her children — Eric, 15; Chekiara, 14; and Shamya, 11 — and prescribing Concerta, a long-acting stimulant, for them all. She said each was having trouble listening to instructions and concentrating on schoolwork.

“My kids don’t want to take it, but I told them, ‘These are your grades when you’re taking it, this is when you don’t,’ and they understood,” Ms. Williams said, noting that Medicaid covers almost every penny of her doctor and prescription costs.

How sad that these kids are being forced to swallow drugs they don’t want.

There are other solutions.

As an advocate of getting children re-connected with nature and encouraging them to spend time outdoors, I’ve seen how natural environments can enhance intelligence. And there is plenty of research to back this up.

Several recent studies have come up with the exciting discovery that kids with ADHD perform better after they have spent time in nature. In one project, researchers at the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois found that children show a significant reduction in the symptoms of attention-deficit disorder when they engage with nature.

How about prescriptions for nature instead of prescriptions for Ritalin?

There are those who really do need medication for ADHD. I remember clearly John, a 10th grader who was in my fifth period English class several years ago. He was supposed to take his Ritalin in the morning and again at lunch. Normally he was on task, ready to work and maybe crack the occasional joke, but whenever he forgot to take his midday pill, he became loud, unfocused and generally rambunctious.

Yes, it’s true that some students need psychotropic drugs to function well and have a better life. But plenty of other kids may well need an added or alternative therapy.

In case you’re still not convinced, here’s another tragic story from The New York Times:

When puberty’s chemical maelstrom began at about 10, though, Quintn got into fights at school because, he said, other children were insulting his mother. The problem was, they were not; Quintn was seeing people and hearing voices that were not there, a rare but recognized side effect of Adderall. After Quintn admitted to being suicidal, Dr. Anderson prescribed a week in a local psychiatric hospital, and a switch to Risperdal.

Enough said.

According to many medical experts, the long-term effects of these drugs are not well understood. Some doctors fear that children will be dependent on the medication well into adulthood.

That’s one concern, and then there’s the issue of poverty and underfunded schools.

In 2011, more than 31 million of the total 50 million students enrolled in public schools in the US qualified for free or reduced lunches. (A child from a family of four earning under $29,965 annually qualifies for free lunch, and if that income is under $42, 643, lunch is discounted.) This is a shocking statistic, and one we should be ashamed of.

As for inadequate funding, the superintendent of one major school district in California, who spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that just as school funding has declined, so have that diagnosis rates of A.D.H.D. risen.

“It’s scary to think that this is what we’ve come to; how not funding public education to meet the needs of all kids has led to this,” said the superintendent, referring to the use of stimulants in children without classic A.D.H.D.

You can hardly blame low-income parents for wanting the best for their children, but this should not be the choice they are facing. Medications are not benign interventions. They are dangerous.

Giving drugs to children who do not need them is just plain wrong.


Related Care2 Coverage

3 Million Kids On ADD/ADHD Drugs

Can Prescriptions For Nature Defeat Childhood Obesity?

Nearly 1 In 10 Children Now Diagnosed With ADHD


Photo Credit: thinkstock


Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago

It's cheaper than dealing with the real issues................

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Liliana G.
Liliana G5 years ago

I am sorry I voted the wrong way because I got "finger happy". Of course this practice should be stopped. Behavior mod must start early (Preschool, k, or the first three grades of grammar school).It must include behavior contingencies at home. Too many times children are taught at home through threats, punishment and negative reinforcement. Since school teachers are supposed to be persuasive and not resort to such means children just do not repond in the expected way. Parents, who are usually either ignorant or just very frustrated, find in medication a relief from teachers' notes and other calls from school due to discipline.

Dagmar Breg
Past Member 5 years ago

Those drugs can be harmful in the long-run. Do you guys even know what goes in those drugs?

a             y m.
g d c5 years ago


Dieter Riedel
Dieter R5 years ago

To think that drugs are a quick fix for a fairly widespread but non live threatening problem of inequality and stress is deranged to say the least. Every parent allowing drugs to be used by their child should first read the insert and its long list of side effects. Have you read how many are suicidal of those psychotic drug users, besides other abnormal behaviors. As it looks like low income patients are just easy pray for drug pushing Doctors, since they often lack the means to inform themselves and are more brainwashed followers of mainstream medicine.
Drugs are never a solution, long term side effects are often much worse as can be found in many studies. First thing is changing to a healthy diet and then creating a healthy and fun environment. Stress is still the main cause of most diseases and the biggest killer.

Nils Lunde
PlsNoMessage se5 years ago


Anna Undebeck
Anna Undebeck5 years ago

Dont EVER prescribe ADHD-med like Ritalin, etc to ANYONE who havent got the diagnose- and to kids- cant understand how the parents allows it without a full-diagnose!!!!!

John B.
John B5 years ago

Thanks Judy for the article. Over-medication for children and adults is a big problem and then when the doctor prescribes meds that aren't needed that is just plan child abuse.

Steve R.
Steve R5 years ago

"Why Are Low-Income Kids Being Prescribed Drugs They Don’t Need?"....

It's called "follow the money", from drug company to FDA, to congress, to the White House.

White House and congress get more low-income people on welfare, give them Medicaid, encourage frequent doctor visits, FDA approves anything and everything "drug", doctor gets paid by drug companies to prescribe anything and everything he possibly can.

Taxpayers are paying for it after all!

Must be nice. And who are the dumb asses that keep voting for them?

Well that would be us.....