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Rescuing our kids, not popping pills into them

By Peter West - posted Thursday, 17 December 2009

Thousands of kids around the western world are needlessly drugged every day. A couple of weeks ago Ms Nicola Roxon, Minister for Health, did something to lessen the problem.

Ms Roxon announced the release of some significant documents from two bodies. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) have updated draft Australian Guidelines on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They have issued other information to assist parents and medical professionals to recognise ADHD and treat it appropriately.

The NHMRC and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) have agreed to make available the draft Australian Guidelines prior to formal consideration by the Council of the NHMRC.


There are similar moves being made in the UK, with widespread concern about numbers of children too easily being given medication and the National Health Service warning that this could entail “significant risks”.

Warnings are being issued in the USA about medicating young people in a project called "Too Many, Too Much, Too Young". Researchers at Rutgers and Columbia Universities are warning of the dangers of medicating children and urging more care be used before hastening to medicate children. And the US Food and Drug Administration's pediatric advisory committee is considering new warnings about the dangers of medicating children for behaviour, warning of the risk of inducing lifelong health problems.

More than 350,000 Australian children and adolescents have ADHD, the Minister estimates.

But ADHD could far too easily be mis-diagnosed. Symptoms of ADHD include the following: doesn't listen; doesn't follow instructions; loses things; talks too much; interrupts others; and always on the go.

I believe most males could be found guilty of all of these, much of the time. Boys would be found guilty of these by teachers a lot of the time. I know this as when I give workshops on boys, teachers come out with a volley of complaints: loud, noisy, rude, won’t listen, won’t write more than a few words; over-active in class … and so on. When we are panicked into medicating all those suspected of having ADHD, we are devaluing natural male energy.

Apparently the Rudd Government has been concerned for some time that there is a lack of good evidence-based information on this condition. This concern appears to be shared by many medical professionals, parents and educators. I’m not sure who speaks for medicos or parents but I gather the concern is there. Again, it’s been raised in many gatherings I've attended on raising boys.


Professor David Forbes, Chair of the RACP’s Guidelines Working Group, said: “Treatment may include education, psychosocial strategies, behavioral management and changes in nutrition and medication.”

If the draft guidelines are followed by practitioners, children with ADHD will be carefully assessed, families will be informed of risks, benefits and options and children will receive individualised therapy. It is likely fewer children will be prescribed medication, and that more children will have school and home based programs that assist their parents in managing their symptoms,” said Professor Forbes.

This statement is worth looking at carefully. In other words, there has not been careful enough assessment of ADHD. Too often, parents hear from other parents who say their child has ADHD and is on medication. They ask for medication and believe it will improve their child’s behaviour. In addition, it marks their child out as special. Categorically, some children will need medication. But this should not be prescribed as a first solution. And the medication has many unpleasant side-effects.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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Related Links
The Fragile Male, Kraemer, S. (2000)

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