If aliens beamed down from another planet, how shocked might they be by modern patients’ willingness to ingest crazy stuff in the name of their health or well-being? Is it surprising or distressing that in the 21st century so many patients swallow so much hokum and downright dangerous thinking?
Let’s start with an excellent but deeply distressing New York Times Sunday Magazine story about “Generation Adderall,” a painful dissection of how many young people have become dependent, even addicted, to drugs that their parents started them on, in the name of improving their focus and academic performance. The author reports that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD or even shorter ADD, has risen as a diagnosis for young people, increasing from 3 to 5 percent of American school kids in 1990 to 11 percent now. The remedy for this, of course, has been prescribing drugs:
In 1990, 600,000 children were on stimulants, usually Ritalin, an older medication that often had to be taken multiple times a day. By 2013, 3.5 million children were on stimulants, and in many cases, the Ritalin had been replaced by Adderall, officially brought to market in 1996 as the new, upgraded choice for ADHD—more effective, longer lasting.
As the writer notes, Adderall, indeed, packed more of a wallop than she imagined. It became, for her, addictive, sending her into alternating states of euphoric, intense focus and concentration, followed by periods of crashing lethargy and incoherence. She spent significant amounts of time scrounging for Adderall. She said she effectively lost her 20s to the drug, which she needed the help of a caring psychiatrist to kick.
The giant challenge the author describes, however, remains: prescription stimulants have become an easy, familiar, and common drug of choice for the millennial generation, with statistics showing 16 million prescriptions for Adderall alone in 2012, not mentioning other amphetamines, among adults ages 20 to 39. These drugs have become ubiquitous on campuses, both for undergrads and grads, and among the hard-charging young in corporate America, the writer says.
I’ve written about the increasing peril of gratuitous prescribing of powerful drugs to kids for ADD, ADHD, and other conditions, including inexplicable medication of tots with antipsychotics. Because I deal with lawsuits involving with dangerous drugs, I’ve watched with increasing alarm as experts, slowly, have warned about risks with prescription stimulants, including how they heighten dangers for heart issues and increase psychiatric challenges including for suicide, even when caregivers provide public warnings.
As the nation struggles with the horrors of a prescription opioid painkiller epidemic, will regulators, policy-makers, politicians, and yes, well-intentioned parents, again, be caught way behind when the country wakes up and sees the harms tied to prescription stimulants?
Homeopathy and naturopathy
Lest anyone read more and find any credence by coverage, it’s just disheartening, with all the spending on education and with the significant advances of medical science, that homeopathy and naturopathy still hold such sway on the imagination and lives of Americans in 2016.
The Washington Post tells, for example, of a published medical journal report on an autistic British four-year-old receiving emergency medical care when his parents brought him into the hospital “throwing up, [after he] had lost his appetite, was constipated and extremely thirsty, and had lost more than 6.5 pounds in two weeks.”
Mom sheepishly admitted after a time that the boy was under “treatment” by a naturopath and had been given a dozen “holistic supplements” to address his autism, including: vitamin D, calcium magnesium citrate, cod liver oil, camel milk, silver, Biocare Lipozyme, archturus bromelain, zinc, trace minerals, Epsom bath salts, AFP Peptizyde and sodium chloride (common table salt). The boy required weeks of hospitalization before he recovered. The Post, with unnecessary restraint, says of this utter bunk:
The case study serves as yet another reminder that alternative medicine isn’t medicine and that parents should be cautious. ‘Although families may report benefits with these treatments, there is no regulation of their use and, as our case demonstrates, there can be significant adverse events,’ [case study] authors Catriona Boyd and Abdul Moodambail of the department of pediatrics at Barts Health in London wrote. The doctors added that in the case of the 4-year-old boy, police are investigating the naturopath whom his parents consulted.
Meantime, in Canada, researchers are wrestling with a tough call−whether an attempt to scientifically debunk a foundation of homeopathy will only give credibility to what the scientists call quackery. At issue are “nosodes,” dilutions of problematic substances administered as “homeopathic vaccines.”
As Stat, an online health information site reports, some experts argue that nosodes and homeopathy, in general, have been thoroughly debunked, and any science applied to it, no matter how rigorous and damning, will only give it undue attention.
The controversy differs in Canada, versus in the United States, because those living up north have, sensibly, restricted homeopathic health claims. They are not similarly regulated in this country, where Stat says, “Americans spent nearly $3 billion on homeopathic remedies and $170 million on visits to homeopaths in 2007.” Sigh, those are data points to drive anyone with a scientific mind to consume naturally fermented grains, aged in oaken casks, and in liquid solution.