Low Income Kids Prescribed Medication to Boost Academic Performance

Are your child’s grades not up to par? Forgo talking to his teacher and instead, talk his doctor into an Adderall prescription. Doctors are prescribing ADHD meds—especially to low income kids—at alarming rates, because their use often results in better school performance. 

The debate over whether or not attention deficit disorder (ADHD) in kids should be treated pharmaceutically isn’t new. But these kids don’t actually have ADHD― or any other learning disability, according to The New York Times. Instead, they’re suffering from the effects of underfunded public schools and the poor academic performance that comes with needing extra help when your teacher is too overwhelmed to give it.

Dr. Michael Anderson, a pediatrician in Canton, Georgia explains to the Times, “I don’t have a whole lot of choice. We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” He readily admits some of his diagnoses of “ADHD” are often a “made up excuse” to prescribe drugs to children who otherwise would fall through the cracks of a failing school system.

Strangely, using amphetimes as study aids was up until recently the domain of affluent high school and college kids looking for an academic edge. The D.E.A. even lists drugs like Ritalin and Adderall as Class 2 controlled substances— the same as cocaine and morphine— because they rank among the most addictive substances that have a medical use.

According to a recent article by the Huffington Post, one study reports prescriptions of antipsychotic medication for children has increased eight-fold over the last 17 years. And it’s not because we’ve birthed a generation of mentally disturbed children, but because “off-label” use of these medications, like using them to concentrate, is driving their popularity.

Do we even know the long-term effects of giving otherwise healthy grammar school-aged children amphetemines and antipsychotics? Not yet. But for most parents, the end-game for their kids is better grades and a positive attitude, and often the only available course of action is a pill.

The Times reports Medicaid almost fully covers the cost, making pharmaceutical therapy much cheaper than the tutoring or long-term behavioral therapy that would normally be the corrective course of action for children struggling in school.

Jacqueline Williams, one of Dr. Anderson’s patients, has all three of her children on medication and tells the Times, “My kids don’t want to take it, but I told them, ‘These are your grades when you’re taking it, this is when you don’t,’ and they understood.”

MORE: Earlier ADHD Treatment Could Mean Better Grades

Other than a chemically-induced compliance, kids can sometimes exhibit some short-term and disturbing side-effects from these drugs. The paper reports that one 11-year-old named Quintn started hearing voices while on Adderall. Those voices eventually made him suicidal and after being hospitalized for a week, he was switched to Risperdal, which he continues to take. Quintn’s dad, who medicates all five of his children, says of his kids’ drug use, "If they're feeling positive, happy, socializing more, and it's helping them, why wouldn't you? Why not?"

Actually, there are plenty of why-nots, the long-term effects on a growing child’s mental and physical development being the primary. But logistically, what other choice do cash-strapped parents have? When the pills are covered, but tutoring is not, prescriptions are plenty, but well-staffed and properly funded schools are anomaly, what are your options to insure your kids can progress? Do you even have any?

Would you ever give your kids prescription pills even if they did not have ADHD? Have you ever taken drugs like Ritalin or Adderall yourself? Let us know what you think about them in the Comments.

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• Beware Rogue Online Pharmacies, FDA Says

A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com