The New Observer ADHD Thoughtful critique of ADHD from Australia

Thoughtful critique of ADHD from Australia

This is a good overview of the territory of the ADHD drugging programme. The paper is by a practising psychologist working in Queensland in Australia. The author sets the tone:

When a child is misbehaving, and they can be identified as ‵sick‶ and drugged into compliance, the parents no longer have to feel guilty or inadequate, the teachers no longer have to struggle with constant problems in the classroom, the physician has an ongoing customer and the drug company has branded another cash cow. Everyone is happy, except for the child. The child is blamed within the family as the source of the problems, stigmatised and disempowered by the diagnosis, and has to suffer the powerful short-term side effects and possibly the scary long-term side effects of the medication.


I’d like to see the author draw out more the implications of this:

The diagnosis itself, identifying something within the child as the culprit for whatever problems he or she is having at home or at school, is itself destructive.

Foucault has been the primary thinker looking at how the modern episteme is characterised by a practice of objectifying certain classes of people, creating a body of knowledge around the objectified being and at the same time creating a certain kind of subjectivity – for the doctor or psychiatrist or policeman.This trait of locating problems in people is a defining feature of the current historically relative episteme (system of knowledge; how we think knowledge is gained; what we think knowledge is). ADHD-drugging is a text-book case.

There is a useful section on the unique horrors of giving methylphenidate and amphetamines to young people under the age of 6.

There is a short section on the black-market in methylphenidate. Obviously the authorities cannot completely manage their money-earner for big pharma and the drugs are used outside of the socially legitimatised “diagnosis-prescription” model. The danger of focussing too much on this point though is that you inadvertently start making the case for Strattera – the non-stimulant “treatment” “for” “ADHD” – a horrible drug, researched as an anti-depressant and then re-applied to young people because it seemed to “reduce the symptoms of ADHD”. It certainly does. A not insignificant number of young people on Strattera simply commit suicide – which certainly fixes their “symptoms”. (See our paper. Part 3 – The Drugs).

There is a particularly interesting section titled “Iatrogenics: When the Problem is Caused by the Treatment” where the author discusses the way that drugging as a solution to social problems creates a passive and helpless person who comes to believe that they have no agency over their actions. This view is summed up by this quote which the author takes from the work of some Vermont psychologists:

A child, his parents, teachers, etc. all become dependent on the ingestion of pills per se, independent of the chemical effects of a drug‌Handing a child a pill each day is a simple task, and it allows the parents the comfort of placing the explanation for their child’s hyperactive behaviour on his physiological makeup. They are thereby absolved of any responsibility. [1]

This section is perhaps recommended reading for Professor Thapar who explained that her study on genetics and “ADHD” – which established a small correlation between possession of an ADHD label and a genetic factor – had the benefit that it lifted the burden of “stigma” from the parents of “ADHD children”. (See our paper on ADHD. Part 1 – Critique of the Cardiff Genome Study).

It has to be said that some forms of psychotherapy at least might be said to have an iatrogenic effect. In the course of their earnest efforts to move the patient from A (not well; in need of help) to B (whatever the goal of the therapy is) the therapist can inadvertently impose A on the patient. The only slightly less than alright can be made to be helpless and deficient.

There is also a section on the economics and politics of ADHD. The trend is to locate a deficit in individuals. Once defined such a deficit becomes a) an insidious way of managing non-compliant social behaviour and b) a huge source of profit -as deficits can be treated – for a profit.  At the same time, the trend to locate deficits in individuals moves us away from narratives about social justice, collective solutions etc. ADHD “diagnosis” and drugging is thus symptomatic of a neo-conservative political trend in the West which has become totally ascendant in recent years. The author writes:

Instead of the government having to spend tax dollars to address social problems that money could go back to the wealthy and the corporations, while individuals poured money into the drug companies to get the magic pill to fix their diseased children.


In the end this is another well argued, thoughtful and clearly responsible criticism of the ADHD-drugging machine. As the author, a psychologist, himself comments:

I suggest that it is not possible to read this information and conclude that there is no problem, and I ask that those of you who are proponents of the medical model of ADHD have the courage to read this carefully and challenge your pre-existing belief system.


Having looked into how the ADHD narrative (and therefore the actual drugging programme itself) is put together in the UK I’m afraid that I have come to this conclusion: the science doesn’t come in to it. No amount of argument, no amount of scientific criticism, no amount, even of pointing out the suffering caused by ADHD drugging, (nor of pointing out that it doesn’t benefit young people), is going to stop the show. One of the main drivers is the revenue streams for US pharmaceutical corporations. Other drivers probably include: governments in the West have the default position of always siding with corporations, never protecting the people; the education system is in the main happy to go along with it because it covers up flaws in that system; there are significant numbers of parents who are happy – or who can be talked into – popping a pill into their child’s mouth to get a moment’s quiet;  the psychiatric establishment has significant power and authority including, it seems, over large parts of the wider medical community. In the face of the overwhelming power of the US corporations and those who in effect collude with them (as well as those who take a lead and propel the myth) “truth” doesn’t stand a chance. As the author of the paper reviewed here points out; if you have enough money you can manufacture the “science” you need.

It does appear that certain public bodies in Australia have expressed at least a degree of caution concerning ADHD drugging. (The New South Wales Commission on Children and Young People is cited several times; at least an enquiry was held by a public body which allowed various questioning voices a platform). We could hope perhaps that the office of the Children’s Commissioner in the UK – the body tasked with promoting “children’s rights” in England – might be concerned. The ADHD drugging scandal is not however on their radar.

We could hope that the media might be outraged. Â But – while there are occasional notable exceptions – most of the press is happy most of the time to simply act as a megaphone for the endless studies run by the ADHD promotion campaign. It isn’t even lazy journalism. Many “health editors” seem to get a little thrill out of playing their part in drugging young people. And why would the corporate media businesses want to challenge their friends in the corporate pharmaceutical sector anyway?

The ADHD drugging programme is not going to be changed by scientific debate. In “science terms” the debate has long since been won by the antis. But it doesn’t matter. These are voices crying in the wilderness. The power is with the money. The US imperialist machine. The horror of ADHD drugging will only end when a) the power of US corporations b) the rule of their lackeys in Western governments and c) the institution of psychiatry are all terminated. This is all quite possible. A shift of the basis of society to one of human values rather than money, profit and fascist power is absolutely possible. But that is what it is going to take.

This is a link to the paper reviewed here. The author is Bob Jacobs Psy D.


1. Stableford, W., Butz, R., Hasazi, J., Leitenberg, H. and Peyser, J., University of Vermont psychologists. (1976). Sequential withdrawal of stimulant drugs and use of behaviour therapy with two hyperactive boys. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 46, 302-312.