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ADHD in Children Health Center

Parents, Schools Face Off Over Ritalin

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And that would have been the correct response, say some experts. "Parents should retain an absolute right to reject psychiatric medications for their children. Drugs are not the answer," says Peter Breggin, MD, who evaluated Michael after he was taken off all medications and says they were not helping him. Breggin, a psychiatrist in Bethesda, Md., is an outspoken critic of some psychiatric medications, particularly when used for children.

Breggin says a parent's first task should be to determine if a child with ADHD or similar disorders has problems only in school. "If they are not doing well in school, evaluate the school," he says. "[Some children] are in boring, overly structured classrooms. They are not getting enough attention. They are not getting enough playtime. They are reacting as any child would. I have seen many a child be uncontrollable with one teacher and not with another. What disease acts like that?

"Many parents might want to go to the extreme of private school or home schooling," he says. "I would take any steps necessary to keep my child off psychiatric medications.

"If the problem is at home, you need to consider what you need to do to handle your child," Breggin says, adding that he believes many symptoms ascribed to ADHD result from conflicts between parents and children.

Breggin's opinion, however, is not universally shared. To Peter Jensen, MD, director of the Center for the Advancement of Children's Mental Health at Columbia University in New York, refusing to give medication to children with ADHD is comparable to withholding asthma drugs from a child who needs them.

Jensen, the former top government expert on ADHD research and treatment while at the National Institute of Mental Health, says science has made a clear case that Ritalin is an appropriate medication for a child with ADHD. "If the parent doesn't want to put a child on medication, we say, 'OK, let's try behavior modification,'" he says. But if that doesn't work, he says, the parents should turn to medication.

He says any school -- and any physician -- has a duty to report a child who is thought to not be getting appropriate medical care. To do otherwise, he argues, is to risk being sued for failing to protect the child.

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