Chat Transcript: Dr. Peter Breggin on Ritalin and Kids

Each year, the drug Ritalin is currently being prescribed to an estimated 4 million American schoolchildren diagnosed with attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

But some parents feel that schools and medical professionals are labeling kids too quickly with ADD/ADHD and then prescribing Ritalin. The matter is now before the courts in a class-action lawsuit. Lawyers for the plaintiffs allege that Novartis, the makers of Ritalin, over-promoted the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD to boost drug sales and that the company failed to adequately warn the public of Ritalin's impact on children's cardiovascular and nervous systems. The company denies the allegations.

Joining us today for an online chat was Dr. Peter Breggin. Breggin, a medical consultant to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, is the author of Talking Back to Ritalin and Reclaiming Our Children: The Healing Solution for a Nation in Crisis.

Moderator at 9:23am ET

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Moderator at 12:58pm ET

Welcome Dr. Peter Breggin.

Dr. Peter Breggin at 1:01pm ET

Hello. This is my very first online chat, so it's an inauguration for me and anyone who's listening. I'm Peter R. Breggin, MD. I am a psychiatrist in private practice in Bethesda MD where I've been located since I left the National Institute of Mental Health in 1968.

Moderator at 1:01pm ET

How exactly is ADD/ADHD diagnosed?

Dr. Peter Breggin at 1:07pm ET

The diagnostic manual created by the American Psychiatric Association is the basis for the diagnosis. It divides ADHD into 3 different aspects. One is hyperactivity, another is impulsivity, and a third is inattention. If you actually look at the criteria under these categories, it's a list of behaviors that annoy teachers or disrupt classrooms.

For example, under hyperactivity, the first criteria is "often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat." Under impulsivity, the first criteria "often blurts out answers before questions have been completed," which to me means he could do well on Jeopardy. And the third, inattention, has for it's first criteria, "often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes."

Clearly this is not a biological disorder, but a list of behaviors that put children in conflict with adults. Even if the evaluator does many different tests lasting many hours, the diagnosis still comes back to these "fake" criteria. I call them "fake" because they really reflect conflicts between parents and children and teachers and children.

Jarod Cooper from proxy.lucent.com at 1:07pm ET

Has there been any research done on the effect that Ritalin may have on adults who were medicated with as children?

Dr. Peter Breggin at 1:10pm ET

Ritalin and other stimulants suppress growth of all origins of the body by disrupting growth-hormone cycles and that is likely to have a lasting effect. And animal studies show that amphetamines such as Adderall and Dexedrine cause brain-cell death and that Ritalin causes permanent brain disfunction at regular clinical doses. There are very few long-term studies.

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