Orem lawmaker targets Ritalin
Orem representative tells Congress that schools push drugs for ADHD: By Lee Davidson
Deseret News Washington correspondent Wednesday", default", May 07, 2003
WASHINGTON After a governor's veto killed her bill to ban schools from pressuring parents to medicate hyperactive children as a condition to attend class, Utah state Rep. Katherine Bryson, R-Orem, is now trying her luck in Congress.
Bryson asked the House Education Subcommittee on Education Reform on Tuesday to pass a similar bill, which has been introduced by Rep. Max Burns, R-Ga.
She told a committee hearing that she successfully pushed a similar bill through the Utah Legislature last year which gained some attention by concerned groups nationally but Gov. Mike Leavitt vetoed it.
"I realized the gravity of the situation after being contacted by many parents in Utah and hearing what I can only describe as horror stories," she said. "I ran a bill in 2002 to prohibit school personnel from pressuring parents into drugging their children. . . . Tragically, the governor of our state failed to listen to the needs of our families."
Bryson said she has heard numerous cases of school officials who contact parents saying their children appear to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or some other learning disability.
"From here, parents are being coerced into drugging their child with threats of the child's expulsion or charges of medical neglect by child protective services against the parents who refuse to give or take their child off a psychiatric drug," she said.
"Parents are losing their right to choose," she said. "They are being denied access to tutoring or additional educational services for the sake of a 'quick fix' drug like Ritalin that some studies say is more potent than cocaine."
William B. Carey, director of behavioral pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, agreed many children are likely either misdiagnosed with ADHD or given drugs they truly do not need to calm them.
"Virtually all well-informed professional observers agree that 1-2 percent of the child population is so pervasively overactive or inattentive that they are very difficult for anyone to manage," he said. "But why are 17 percent or more of children being given this label? Why is 80 percent of the world's methylphenidate (Ritalin) being fed to American children?"
Carey complained that the definition of ADHD is "extremely vague, the application of it in American medical practice is inadequately disciplined, and the current treatment is nonspecific and noncurative. For parents to be penalized in any way for skepticism and noncompliance would be medically unsound and ethically unsupportable."
However, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry opposed the bill.
Lance Clawson, a psychiatrist testifying for the group, said it is not needed because diagnosis and prescription of medicine is already by law the exclusive role of a physician, not school personnel. Also, he worries it would discourage schools from talking to parents about suspected problems.
He worries that "enforcement provisions threatening a loss of funds could cause school personnel to be fearful about communicating with families regarding a student's emotional or behavioral well-being."
Subcommittee Chairman Michael Castle, R-Del., said, "Parents, however, should never be forced to decide between getting their child into school and keeping their child off of potentially harmful drugs."
2003 Deseret News Publishing Company