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Archive Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
Kids On Pills April 10 2000
Kids on Pills
Monday April 10 2000
Reporter Shelley Jofre
Producer Dorothy Parker

This week's Panorama investigates the dramatic rise in the number of children being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and its controversial treatment with drugs such as Ritalin.

Since 1995, there has been a staggering 9-fold increase in the number of Ritalin prescriptions in the UK yet little is known about the long-term effects of such drug-taking. The Government are so concerned at what they call "the potential for inappropriate misuse" that they have asked the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to appraise Ritalin and issue guidelines to the NHS.

In Staffordshire, a consultant psychiatrist has been suspended while the local health authority investigates the children who have been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin at his clinic.

The programme then travels to the US where as many as 5% of children are now prescribed Ritalin, and asks whether the UK is heading in the same direction

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David Senders is one of the children diagnosed at the Staffordshire clinic. His anti-social and aggressive behaviour has long been a major worry to his mother.
David Senders

"He'd kick and punch me in the streets, he was a very loud child. He's still a very loud child. He couldn't play with other children, he had to muscle in on the action, he had to be centre of attention. He was always on the go, never sat still, always running about, and really difficult to control, I couldn't control him at all."

He would actually get really violent. At one point actually put his fist through his bedroom window and cut his wrists open because of a temper tantrum. So he'd actually be unsafe, he wasn't safe to be left on his own when he'd have a temper tantrum

David was taken to the local child psychiatry clinic at Abbey Hulton and was diagnosed as having ADHD. The consultant psychiatrist suggested David start taking Ritalin.

"He takes two tablets a day at breakfast and at lunchtime, and it's like having a little boy given back to me, it really is. Even though he still has temper tantrums they're not as severe as what they were before he had Ritalin. He can sit down and watch TV, he can sit down now and he'll play quietly with the other children, whereas before he was, he was like a bull in a china shop, he just run round and we couldn't do anything with him".


"He takes two tablets a day at breakfast and at lunchtime, and it's like having a little boy given back to me, it really is. Even though he still has temper tantrums they're not as severe as what they were before he had Ritalin. He can sit down and watch TV, he can sit down now and he'll play quietly with the other children, whereas before he was, he was like a bull in a china shop, he just run round and we couldn't do anything with him".

Teresa Senders
Prescriptions for Ritalin in the UK have rocketed from fewer than 16,000 in 1995 to nearly 140,000 in 1998 . Yet psychiatrists and psychologists do not agree on the use of the drug.

Scientists cannot explain exactly how Ritalin helps children with ADHD but its effects on six year old Craig Buxton are remarkable.

His behaviour is wild and even now, before his medication kicks in, Craig's mother and sister find him impossible to control. "He's dismantled the waste under the sink unit slashed his mattress, strangled the cat, the list is endless."

Craig Buxton
Craig was prescribed Ritalin at Abbey Hulton at the age of four, even though the drug's manufacturer, Novartis, does not recommended it's use in children under 6. His case is one of 150 currently being investigated by the local Health Care Trust. The Trust has admitted to Panorama that there have been problems in almost half the cases so far reviewed. Craig's mother has been told that he should not have been on Ritalin at all for the past two years. His dose of the drug is to be cut in half.

Sharon Buxton said, "I feel angry because he's been taking such a powerful drug for such a long time. It's going to take a lot to put right. They've let us down, they've let Craig down."


I feel angry because he's been taking such a powerful drug for such a long time. It's going to take a lot to put right. They've let us down, they've let Craig down.

Sharon Buxton

In the US an estimated 3 million children now take Ritalin and other stimulants. As the rates of ADHD diagnosis and drug prescription grows in the UK, there are fears that Britain could soon be prescribing psychiatric drugs at the same rate.

Some scientists are scared of the effects psychiatric drugs may have on the development of young brains.

Psychiatrist Peter Breggin believes that these drugs are being used as a form of social control.

Peter Breggin
"There are no studies that show that Ritalin produces positive results if you define positive results as a child learning to take responsibility for his or her behaviour, or doing better in school, or having a long-term better outcome in their life. The so-called positive results with Ritalin are very clear cut. They have to do with the crushing of spontaneous behaviour".


"There are no studies that show that Ritalin produces positive results if you define positive results as a child learning to take responsibility for his or her behaviour, or doing better in school, or having a long-term better outcome in their life. The so-called positive results with Ritalin are very clear cut. They have to do with the crushing of spontaneous behaviour".

Peter Breggin, Psychiatrist

"Instead of responding to our children's signals that they're bored or anxious or lonely or feeling hopeless, we crush the spontaneity with the stimulants. Instead of giving them more interesting things to do in school we enforce a rote obsessive compulsive behaviour with stimulant drugs. I consider this a national tragedy. I consider it a kind of child abuse, a technological child abuse".

The case of twelve year old Andrew Fraser shows how excessive the use of medication has become in America. Andrew was first prescribed Ritalin five years ago, and was also given Clondidine to help him sleep. His doctor started prescribing even more drugs until by the time Andrew was 11, he was taking five different pills.

Andrew's father noticed his son's personality becoming evermore s distorted and sought help. Andrew met Peter Breggin who helped wean him off the powerful cocktail of medication he was taking.

Related links:
Department of Health

British Medical Association

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 ON THIS STORY
Kids On Pills
Coping with a child diagnosed with ADHD
Kids On Pills
Shelley Jofre reports on the effects of drug treatment on children
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