ADHD... Fact or Fiction?

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

ADHD has been the object of study for over a century and has been considered a controversial condition for several decades. While some view it as a legitimate disorder, others believe that it is simply a diagnostic trend promoted by irritated parents and teachers and greedy pharmaceutical companies.


ADHD: Basic facts and general recap of the complexities involved:
  • This disorder has had many names, including “brain damaged syndrome,” “minimal brain dysfunction (MBD),” “hyperkinetic impulsive disorder” and “attention deficit disorder (ADD).” The current term, ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), is the product of decades of study, which have identified a main syndrome with 3 specific “types” associated with it.
        *An estimated 3-7% of school-age children are affected by ADHD — roughly 1.5 million children. ADHD
  • While historical research has suggested that boys have been more frequently affected than girls, current studies indicate that nearly equal numbers of boys and girls are affected by this disorder.
  • Research suggests that of the children diagnosed with ADHD and learning disability, approximately 70% were treated with prescription medications.
  • On one side of the debate the claim is that ADHD is a neurologically-based disorder that responds well to the combination of stimulant medication and behavioral intervention. Several studies evidence significant positive impact on social and family interactions as well as on academic performance. Current research suggests that the failure to treat ADHD may result in increased likelihood of drug addiction, school dropout and concurrent mental disorders.
  • On the other side of the debate the claim is that ADHD is a made up diagnosis, nothing more than poor behavior resulting from a lack of discipline and structure. Proponents of this theory believe that disengaged parents become lazy and come to accept inappropriate behavior in their children. They jump at the diagnostic label and pharmaceutical interventions because little is required on the part of the parents. ADHD, according to this view, is a condition invented by the pharmaceutical companies to increase drug sales and corporate dollars. Proponents of this theory also assert that the pharmaceutical interventions cause most of the symptoms associated with ADHD and generally do more harm than good.
  • According to Dr. Cheryl Barton, “The value of the ADHD market was $2.4 billion in 2004 and it is now the 9th largest segment of the CNS market by sales and one of the fastest growing (+40% year-on-year). Global sales of ADHD are forecast to reach $3.3 billion by 2010.”
  • According to Dr. Cheryl Barton, “approximately 50% to 70% of children with ADHD will continue to experience symptoms into adulthood,” suggesting that big pharmaceutical companies will be reaping benefits that were formerly only stemming from pediatric pharmaceutical sales.
  • While ADHD has historically been treated with psychostimulant medication, moderate benefit has been reported with new non-stimulant alternatives.
  • Tom DeWeese of the American Policy Center contests that ADHD is not a biologic disorder but a financial jackpot. He not only points to the millions being made in big pharmaceutical companies but also by the school systems. “DeWeese points out that a 1991 change in eligibility requirements provided schools with $400 in annual federal education grant money for each child diagnosed with ADHD,” equating to big dollars for diagnosis.


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