Monday, December 15, 2014

Marketing Could Be Responsible for the Impending Globalization of ADHD Diagnosis

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Lately, it seems like the diagnosis and treatment of the behavioral condition Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been extremely frequent. According to Brandeis professor Peter Conrad, it’s an economic and cultural plague, but not necessarily a medical one.

In a recent paper in the Journal Social Science and Medicine, Conrad and coauthor Meredith Bergey examined the growth of ADHD in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Brazil. The paper attributes ADHD's global growth to five trends: expanded, overseas lobbying efforts by drug companies; the growth of biological psychiatry; the adaptation of the American-based Diagnostic and Statistical Manual standards; promotion of pharmaceutical treatments by ADHD advocacy groups that work with drug companies; and the availability of ADHD information and self-diagnosis via the Internet.

Until recently, North America tallied by far the most ADHD diagnoses, and the U.S. consumed 90 percent of all Ritalin - one of the most common ADHD drugs. ADHD diagnoses continue to grow in the U.S., but Americans account for only 75 percent of Ritalin users today.


Many websites promoting ADHD drugs offer checklists with questions like ‘Do you fidget a lot?’ ‘Is it hard for you to concentrate?’ ‘Are you disorganized at work and home?’ "These checklists turn all kinds of different behaviors into medical problems," Conrad said in a statement. "The checklists don't distinguish what is part of the human condition and what is a disease."

According to the paper, in the U.K., diagnosis of the disorder in school-age children grew from less than one percent in the 1990s to about five percent today. In Germany, prescription ADHD drugs increased from 10 million daily doses in 1998 to 53 million in 2008. And, growth in Italy and France has been slower, in part due to those countries' more restrictive pharmaceutical drug laws, but according to Conrad, even those countries are becoming more lenient.

"There is no pharmacological magic bullet," said Conrad. “No drug can account for nonmedical factors that may contribute to behavior. A fidgety student may be responding to the one-size-fits-all compulsory education system, not a flaw in his brain chemistry…I think we may look back on this time in 50 years and ask, what did we do to these kids?"

To read the full paper, click here.

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This piece was contributed by @AmandaCicc.
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