Giving Adderall to Poor Children Who Don’t Have ADHD

Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Adderall is a prescription drug that the FDA approved to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  According to a recent New York Times article, Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School,certain doctors are taking it upon themselves to prescribe Adderall to underprivileged children who don’t exhibit the symptoms of ADHD.   The doctors justify this practice on the grounds that Adderall helps children focus and earn better grades.

Some people who support this practice also point out that it is cheaper and in the short run more effective than fixing crumbling schools, making them safer, funding them properly, or doing the other things that would improve the academic performance of our children.

Several educators contacted for this article considered the subject of A.D.H.D. so controversial — the diagnosis was misused at times, they said, but for many children it is a serious learning disability — that they declined to comment. The superintendent of one major school district in California, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that diagnosis rates of A.D.H.D. have risen as sharply as school funding has declined.

“It’s scary to think that this is what we’ve come to; how not funding public education to meet the needs of all kids has led to this,” said the superintendent, referring to the use of stimulants in children without classic A.D.H.D. “I don’t know, but it could be happening right here. Maybe not as knowingly, but it could be a consequence of a doctor who sees a kid failing in overcrowded classes with 42 other kids and the frustrated parents asking what they can do. The doctor says, ‘Maybe it’s A.D.H.D., let’s give this a try.’ ”

As a parent, I can see how doctors decide to ignore broader societal issues to do what they think is right for an individual student.  But as a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who defends juveniles accused of committing crimes, I know that the New York Times story misses an important aspect of prescribing Adderall to more students.  Under federal law, Adderall is a Class II controlled substance; same as cocaine.  It is a crime to use Adderall for non-therapeutic reasons.  When doctors give more students Adderall, they also increase the chances that their patients will share the drugs with friends and classmates who have not received a prescription.  This may not sound like a big deal, but it is.

Many states, including California, are increasingly cracking down on students who possess or distribute prescription drugs such as Adderall.  That is one reason why as matter of social matter, it’s not sensible both to encourage doctors to hand out Adderall and then criminalize the unauthorized use of Adderall by juveniles.   If, as a society we make the decision not to invest adequately in our schools, let’s not make the situation worse by criminalizing the possession of small amounts of Adderall by kids.

Unfortunately, more and more juveniles are being ensnared by the criminal justice system in connection with prescription drugs.  That’s why it’s critical to work with lawyers who are experienced in defending juveniles in criminal matters.

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