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More doctors are prescribing stimulants for students who are struggling in low-income schools, The New York Times reports. Many of these children, who do not have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), receive the drugs to increase their academic performance.

“We as a society have been unwilling to invest in very effective nonpharmaceutical interventions for these children and their families,” Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a child mental-health services researcher at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in prescription drug use among low-income children, told the newspaper. “We are effectively forcing local community psychiatrists to use the only tool at their disposal, which is psychotropic medications.”

Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who works with lower-income children and their schools, said, “We are seeing this more and more. We are using a chemical straitjacket instead of doing things that are just as important to also do, sometimes more.” She is concerned that doctors are exposing children to unneeded physical and psychological risks. Side effects of these drugs can include growth suppression and increased blood pressure. In rare cases, they can cause psychotic episodes.

Dr. Michael Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in a county north of Atlanta, prescribes Adderall for low-income children struggling in elementary school. He diagnoses them with ADHD, but says the disorder is an excuse to prescribe the medicine. He says his patients’ families cannot afford tutoring and family counseling, so medication is an easier way to increase the children’s success.

Abuse of prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall, popular among students trying to stay focused while studying, has long been an issue on college campuses.


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