My name is John Breeding. I am a father, and I am a psychologist who works with parents and children. I have observed the massive increase in the numbers of precious children we are placing on psychiatric drugs in the United States, and I have seen firsthand the pressures placed on parents to consider drugs when their children are labeled a problem by the schools. As you board members know, I am also the director of Texans For Safe Education, a citizens group formed for the express purpose of challenging the practice of drugging our children. I want you all to know that I deeply appreciate your decision to convene this hearing, and your time and attention just now in listening to my testimony.
In 1970, a best guess was offered that 150,000 children in the United States were taking Ritalin. A realistic estimate today is 5,000,000. In 1971, when Ritalin prescription use was approaching 200,000, our country was alarmed enough that the United States Congress convened an investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration classified Ritalin and other amphetamines as Schedule II drugs, a category that indicates significant risk of abuse. Since Ritalin represents 70% of the total prescriptions for amphetamine-type drugs, we can add the other 30% and we have about 7,000,000 school-age children in this country on stimulant drugs. This number (7,000,000) is 40 times the 1970 number (175,000). That is a 4000% increase in the number of children on prescribed stimulant drugs in the last three decades. Yet even this troubling fact is not the whole picture. We are not only giving more and stronger amphetamines like Adderall and Dexedrine to our children, we are also witnessing a dramatic increase in the use of adult antidepressants with our children. Despite disturbing evidence of drug-induced manic reactions, the number of antidepressant prescriptions for children continues to soar. This picture becomes even more appalling when we face the recently revealed truth that it is becoming increasingly popular to put our preschool children on these drugs.
Many times have I seen the common progression from Ritalin to more Ritalin to another even more potent stimulant like Adderall to an adult antidepressant like Prozac or Wellbutrin. Regrettably, the practice of dangerous so-called polypharmacy commonly comes into play. I have personally assisted families whose children were taking three or four of these toxic drugs at the same time. The bottom line is that I estimate 8,000,000 school-age children in the United States are on powerful psychiatric drugs today. ThatÕs 15% of our school-age population, which means we have about 1,000,000 children in Texas on psychiatric drugs today. As overseers of our childrenÕs welfare in the schools, your decision to take a close look at this reality is a good one. Other than our neighbor Canada, no other countries in the world are using psychiatric drugs this way with their children; it is a distinctly North American phenomenon.
ADHD Is Not A Real Disease
Some people think that it is good that all these children are taking psychiatric drugs, that science has finally advanced to the point that our children are getting the needed treatment they deserve. These people believe in the tenets of biological psychiatry which hold that failures in social adjustment are due to biologically or genetically-based mental illness, best treated by drugs. Other testimony will address this issue in greater depth, but the unavoidable truth cannot be said too often; the assumptions of biological psychiatry are in no way based on authentic medical science. The stark truth is that none of the so-called psychiatric disorders for which children are given psychotropic drugs has been demonstrated to be of biological or genetic origin. Our countryÕs experts agree that this is definitely and absolutely true of the most popular psychiatric diagnosis for children, ADHD.
You are not alone in questioning psychiatric business as usual regarding our children. Legislatures and school boards across the country are looking into this sordid matter. I know you are aware that three class action lawsuits have been filed against Novartis, the manufacturer of Ritalin, the American Psychiatric Association, and the attention deficit support group called CHADD. These lawsuits are arguing that a fraud has been perpetrated on the public in the form of misinformation downplaying the harmful effects of Ritalin, and leading consumers to believe that ADD is a real disease. Educational professionals have also been lead astray. Accepting false biopsychiatric beliefs as fact, educators create, promote and allow the practice of giving psychiatric drugs to the children in our schools. You may be aware that some are so adamant about these beliefs that parents have been threatened with having their child removed by the state if they did not go along with the demand that their child take psychiatric drugs. More commonly, school personnel simply pressure parents to consider drugs. Even as I speak, a mother with whom I consulted last week is involved in an ARD meeting for her son at a local elementary school with personnel who asked her, ÒHave you considered medication for your son?Ó This is customary and usual practice in Texas schools.
As an educational authority in our state, you are absolutely acting in a responsible, ethical manner by making this inquiry into what has tragically become customary and usual practice. We have medicalized what must rightfully be considered educational challenges
The Effects of Psychiatric Drugs
For a short version of the physical effects of psychiatric drugs, the standard Physician's Desk Reference is adequate. For our purpose here, suffice it to say that every organic system is affected: cardiovascular, central nervous system, gastrointestinal, endocrine/metabolic, and more. Members of the Board, please make no mistake about the fact that giving children these powerful drugs causes brain damage! Whatever the language, however you justify it, the truth is that some degree of arrested and altered brain and central nervous system development is an inevitable consequence of psychiatric drug use with children. Some children die; 160 Ritalin-related deaths were reported to the FDA between 1990 and 1997, mostly cardiovascular in nature. There are at least two parents sitting in the audience today for whom the deaths of their children can be attributed to the effects of psychiatric drugs.
I will briefly mention just a few of the many significant emotional or behavioral effects of these drugs.
The Zombie Effect
Many parents have voiced the poignant observation that they have somehow lost their child, that the spark is gone, the eyes are vacant, the zest and vitality are lessened. The defenders of biopsychiatry acknowledge this so-called zombie effect, but, incredibly enough, construe it as harmless. In their 1995 Comprehensive Textbook on Psychiatry, L. Eugene Arnold, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Ohio State University, and Peter Jensen, chief of the National Institute of Mental Health research branch on children and adolescents, make the following admission: "The amphetamine look, a pinched, somber expression, is harmless in itself but worrisome to parents, who can be reassured. The behavioral equivalent, the 'zombie' constriction of affect and spontaneity, may respond to a reduction of dosage, but sometimes necessitates a change of drug." Even when the effect is not so dramatic, something is always lost due to suppression by the drug.
One thing that is always lost when a child takes drugs is the inborn right and need of individuals to develop their characters, their abilities to function and regulate themselves without being under the influence of drugs. That is always lost. Also always lost is the inborn right and need of the child to grow and develop on all levels in as wholesome a way as possible.
There are many other profound effects. Perhaps most significant here is the belief and conviction that one is somehow defective and inferior, that one is not ok without drugs. The feeling that goes with this is called shame, and it feels lousy.
A related additional belief is that one is not responsible; the message is that you are not responsible because you have an illness. Something goes wrong, there's a bad day, and the first question is "Have you taken your Ritalin today?" And soon enough, everyone's off on the search for a different dosage, or a different or additional drug.
The more dramatic effects get our attention. Even the PDR lists "frank psychotic episodes" as an effect of Ritalin. The American Psychiatric Association acknowledges suicide as a major complication of Ritalin withdrawal. Prozac was associated with more hospitalizations, deaths, or other serious adverse reactions reported to the FDA than any other drug in America; many of them concerned suicidal or violent self-destructive behavior while on the drug.
There are many psychiatric drug studies demonstrating a connection between suicide and violence and use of psychiatric drugs, and between psychiatric drug withdrawal and violence. We are becoming aware of the remarkable fact that so many, perhaps most, of the perpetrators of so-called senseless violence in the last fifteen years were taking psychiatric drugs. In 1998 and 1999, Oregon's Kip Kinkel, Colorado's Eric Harris, and California's Steven Abrams are dramatic examples.
Recreational Use of Prescribed Psychiatric Drugs
That DEA pharmacologist Gretchen Feussner has spoken here today attests to the fact that we are on dangerous ground with our children. The most popular psychiatric drugs we use with children, methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine (Adderall and Dexedrine), are controlled substances because they have high abuse liabilities. Research consistently shows that neither animals nor humans can tell the difference between cocaine, amphetamine or methylphenidate when administered the same way with comparable doses. Increasing problems related to illicit and recreational abuse of psychiatric drugs in the schools... the ready availability of these drugsÉ.. associated incidents of violenceÉ.. a school environment where significant numbers of a childÕs peers are altered in various ways by drug useÉ. I hope that all these facts make it very clear that this is not only an issue of family choice. All of our schools and all of our children are affected, even those whose parents choose not to give their children these drugs.
American psychologist, Ken Livingston, spoke recently to another sadly strange aspect of this situation. His words: ÒThere is something odd, if not downright ironic, about the picture of millions of American school children filing out of Ôdrug-awarenessÕ classes to line up in the school nurseÕs office for their midday dose of amphetamine."
This Texas psychologist thinks of arrested brain development, stunted growth, fear, shame, anger, social alienation of Ritalin kids who are shunned by their schoolmates, and children robbed of their chance for an abundant, drug-free life.
The federal government has had profound impact on our educational system. Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which covers anyone with a physical or mental impairment that limits a "major life activity," including learning, was a determining factor in the expansion of special education since it required that schools not discriminate against children with disabilities. In 1990, however, the even more significant Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed by Congress as Public Law 94-142. The IDEA goes beyond prohibiting discrimination; it mandates that eligible children receive access to special education that must be designed to meet each child's unique educational needs. Furthermore, the IDEA legislation provided schools with an additional $400 per year for each child in special education.
In 1991, the Department of Education issued a policy clarification that ADD be included as a covered disability. Many feel that this policy change was the spark that set off the explosion in Ritalin production and use -- a 6-fold increase between 1990 and 1995. The well-intentioned attempt to meet more of the needs of our children through special education has gone awry, perverted into the awful reality that an estimated 15% of our school-age children are now on psychiatric drugs. This is a shame worth crying for, and a disgrace to us all.
There is considerable controversy about the role of special services in the schools, especially the balance between entitlement and discipline. Many feel that these laws have tied the hands of educators, limiting their ability to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. Traditional options of corporal punishment or expulsion have been taken away. Schools are mandated to keep the children, and to adapt to their needs, which are usually interpreted as disabilities. In the case of ADD and other psychiatric diagnoses, this means their "mental illnesses." A profound effect of diagnosis and labeling is that, once done, everyone is absolved of responsibility to keep thinking about what are the real problems, and how to solve them. The tendency is to think that the problem is explained by the diagnosis, that it's a genetic or biological problem, that he can't help it, and it has nothing to do with our system. Johnny has ADD; that's why he's having a hard time. He is entitled to our special services, and we have to cope with him. No one is really responsible, and no one can really be held accountable. The best solution, so this argument goes, is a biological treatment, drugs, to hold the "illness" at bay.
That we are resorting to psychiatric drugs to control millions of our children is in no way a solution to declining literacy, high dropout rates, or problems with school discipline. It is as if we are scapegoating the brains of our children as a way to divert attention from the need for courageously handling the challenges of education in todayÕs world. Our responsibility as adults who care for our childrenÕs welfare is to keep thinking and searching for the deepest truth and the best solutions.
This hearing today is a great expression of your responsibility to the truth and to the care of our children, and I thank you for that. An even more powerful expression would be to take a stand in defense of our children and our schools. As a father, as a psychologist, and as the director of Texans For Safe Education, I implore you to do just thatÑto take a stand by making a statement on this issue of psychiatric drugs and education in the form of a resolution. This resolution would be a public declaration that our stateÕs most prestigious public educational body has looked into the matter and has a serious concern about the harm caused by the fact that so many children in our schools are on psychiatric drugs. It would also be an influential statement reminding educators that the business of education involves teaching, and that their focus should be on using authentic, proven educational methods to help children learn.
The Colorado State Board of Education passed such a resolution in November of last year. The title of their resolution precisely reflects its purpose: ÒPromoting the use of academic solutions to resolve problems with behavior, attention and learning.Ó To me this appears exactly congruent with your own BoardÕs long-range plan for public education from which I quote: ÒThe State Board of Education envisions a system of public education that is based on these fundamental principles: all students can learn; all educators can develop the knowledge and expertise to implement programs that ensure all students can learn.Ó Clear, straightforward, worthwhile, and true. I know that public declaration of your opinion and recommended direction will make a real and significant difference to educators, parents and children across the state. By doing so, Texas can further establish its reputation as the nationÕs leader in education policy.
On behalf of many concerned parents and adult allies of children, I beg you to do the right thing. I trust that you will.
Thanks for listening.