If you’re following the ADHD wars, you might want to check out a blistering response to a recent article in Esquire magazine called “The Drugging of the American Boy.” You can pretty much tell where the Esquire story is going from the headline, as Gina Pera, a journalist who focuses on ADHD, writes in the New York Observer: ” When a headline features the word ‘drugging,’ the report about ADHD that follows will not be well-balanced.”
Not well-balanced is putting it mildly. The story is classic scare-mongering, suggesting that a cabal of psychiatrists and drug companies is waiting to swoop down and drug your six-year-old boy, turning him manic, aggressive, paranoid, sleepless, starved and possibly psychotic and suicidal. You think I’m exaggerating, but that’s the story’s opening salvo.
“Esquire joins The New York Times in treating one of the most well-researched and documented conditions in medical history as a piñata,” Pera writes. “Bash ADHD and all the goodies fall out. Web traffic soars. The immense anti-psychiatry blogosphere races to showcase the latest proof that they’ve been right all along.” Paul Raeburn, chief media critic at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, a watchdog site, is similarly outraged.
I didn’t write about the Esquire piece when it came out a couple of weeks ago because it couldn’t be less helpful to parents. We certainly agree that there are real problems with shotgun ADHD diagnoses and the tendency to treat ADHD as “a default method for dealing with a ‘difficult’ child”—both things the Esquire story notes. But for this story the red meat is medication bashing, not a serious look at what might be driving overdiagnosis. And as both Pera and Raeburn write, it’s not the least bit interested at all in looking at the kids who have been helped by meds—there’s decades of documentation on that—or at the kids who aren’t getting meds that might help them.