Misleading Info on ADHD

© Ivelin | stockfresh.com

© Ivelin | stockfresh.com

Three Swedish researchers did a study on the information published online by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on ADHD. What is intriguing about their study is that they were looking at how the NIMH document sought to persuade its readers to take action to address their child’s ADHD problem. They suggested there was a circular argument wherein ADHD was defined according to the presence of certain behaviors, which the diagnostic label of ADHD was said to explain. They also pointed out how ADHD is presented as legitimate medical disorder, despite the fact that “diagnostic criteria are subjectively interpreted from the behavior of the child.”

The authors, Erlandsson, Lundun and Punzi, linked this Easy-to-Read NIMH document on ADHD in their study. However, their citations appear to be from this NIMH document, “What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, ADD)?” They noted where the image of ADHD as a legitimate medical disorder was established by the first sentence of the article, “ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders [and can continue through adolescence and adulthood].” This is word-for-word in the latter article, where the Easy-to-Read one is slightly different: “ADHD is a common mental disorder that begins in childhood and can continue through adolescence and adulthood.” The bracketed phrase was not quoted by Erlandsson, Lundun and Punzi, possibly because they were looking at ADHD in children; or when they examined the document in October of 2015, it wasn’t there.

Erlandsson et al. noted how the repeated use of the term “disorder” (at least 15 times) and a number of references to brain imaging and brain chemicals gave the impression of a chronic, long-term disability.  The rhetoric is clearly suggestive that ADHD is a brain disorder. And yet, because symptoms vary from person to person, the ‘disorder’ can be difficult to diagnose. The so-called ‘key behaviors of ADHD’ are also found in all children—inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. “But for children with ADHD, these behaviors are more severe and occur more often.” They have to be present for at least six months, and be present to a degree “that is greater than other children of the same age.” Erlandsson et al. said:

In fact, as shown in the document, there are no biological markers, environmentally defined categories, or objective tests to distinguish “ADHD” as a discrete condition. Rather, diagnostic criteria are subjectively interpreted from the behavior of the child: “No single test can diagnose a child having ADHD. Instead, a licensed health professional needs to gather information about the child, and his or her behavior and environment.” Professionals as well as teachers and parents are involved in the evaluation and examination process, and subsequently in the diagnostic process.

There is a clear bias in presenting ADHD as a biomedical problem. While saying scientists aren’t sure what causes ADHD, NIMH then said many studies suggest genes play a large role. Twin studies show ADHD runs in families. “Children with ADHD who carry a particular version of a certain gene have thinner brain tissue in the areas of the brain associated with attention.” But the differences were not permanent and as the children with this gene grew up, the brain developed to a normal level of thickness and the ADHD symptoms improved. As Erlandsson et al. commented: “The biomedical discourse assumes that there is a consensus among professionals on how to interpret the behaviors of the child, which means that pharmacological treatment is the preferred intervention.” But this is not the case.

In “ADHD: an Imbalance of Fire over Water or a Case of the Fidgets?” I reviewed several different sources questioning whether ADHD was a biochemical disorder. Psychiatrist Peter Breggin said the search for a genetic and biological cause for ADHD would never succeed because the researchers are looking in the wrong place. Neurologist Fred Baughman said:

 Despite regular pronouncements that its biologic roots have been discovered, no proof of a definite physical or chemical abnormality is ever found. All such research and all such claims … have been a sham, meant to create illusions of science and disease while proving nothing.

The NIMH material also did not mention there was a lack of consensus on the safety of using medication to treat children. Rather, medication is said to be a safe treatment:  “Under medical supervision, stimulant medications are considered safe.” The potential for substance abuse or dependence is downplayed, saying: “there is little evidence of this.” ADHD stimulants are classified as Schedule II controlled substances, which have “a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” See “ADHD: an Imbalance of Fire over Water or a Case of the Fidgets?” for more information on ADHD medications and addiction.

The consequences of a biomedical view of ADHD were addressed in a recent study by the CDC of ADHD treatment among children between 2 and 5 years of age. While the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations recommend behavior therapy ahead of stimulant medication for children under 5, only 53% of children had received behavior therapy in the year prior to the survey, while 47% had received stimulant medication during the previous week.  Between 75% and 78.5% of children aged 2-5 with ADHD received one or more ADHD medications.

ADHD is a highly prevalent condition that can lead to poor health and social outcomes. Despite 2007 and 2011 guidelines recommending behavior therapy as first-line treatment for children aged <6 years with ADHD, during 2008–2014 only about half of children aged 2–5 years with ADHD received psychological services. To effectively mitigate impairments associated with ADHD and minimize risks associated with ADHD medications, it is important to increase the percentage of young children with ADHD who receive evidence-based psychological services, especially parent training in behavior therapy.

Around 30% of children aged 3-5 experienced adverse effects from ADHD medications. The most common ones were appetite suppression and sleep problems. But other commonly reported side effects were: abdominal pain, emotional outbursts, irritability, lack of alertness, repetitive behaviors and thoughts, social withdrawal, and irritability when the medication wears off. In one large study, of methylphenidate (Ritalin or Concerta) over 10% of children 3-5 had to stop treatment because of adverse effects. They were also 20% lower for height and 55% lower for weight. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s Principle Deputy Director, said:

We are still learning about potential side effects of long-term use of ADHD medicine on young children. Until we know more, the recommendation is to refer parents for training in behavior therapy for children under 6 years of age with ADHD.

We recognize that these are not easy treatment decisions for parents to make. We know that behavior therapy is effective, and the skills they learn through behavior therapy can help the whole family be successful. Building these skills in parents and children both empowers families and helps young children with ADHD live up to their full potential.

An article in The Washington Post, “CDC Warns that Americans May Be Overmedicating Youngest Children with ADHD,” addressed this concern as well. The long-term effects of the drugs of choice for treating ADHD, Adderall and Ritalin, were not well studied. An estimated 2 million of the 6 million children diagnosed with ADHD were so labeled between the ages of 2 and 5. While ADHD medications don’t work for everyone, in many cases they take effect almost immediately. In contrast, behavior therapy can take several months to have an impact. However, it can be long lasting; and has no side effects.


Trick or Trick

© Тимур Салман | 123f.com

© Тимур Салман | 123f.com

A grocery store pharmacy in Quebec Canada was giving out psychiatric drugs for Halloween treats this year. A mother accidentally dropped divalproex (Depakote) and quetiapine (Seroquel) pills that she had picked up for her son. Other customers picked up the pills, which were wrapped in a blister packet, and placed them on the counter next to a candy basket. Somehow the pills were mixed in with the candy. “Seven of the pills ended up in the hands and bags of trick-or-treating children.”

A Constable said that an employee mixed the medications in with the candy by accident. But one mother said she immediately recognized the pills were drugs and took them away from her daughter who had “chewed and spat out the drugs distributed by mistake.” The “mistake” is puzzling, as the girl’s mother said: “It was a transparent bag, with the name of the person, the drug, the dosage, the pharmacist and the date and time the prescription was filled; October 31 at 8 a.m. in the morning,”

Police told parents that the pills weren’t dangerous, but that is just not true. The medication guide for quetiapine lists potential side effects as: the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, irritability, anger or aggression, unusual changes in mood or behavior. The medication guide for divalproex lists similar potential side effects: the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions, depression, anxiety, agitation or restlessness, anxiety, irritability, anger or aggression, unusual changes in mood or behavior. And it can cause serious liver damage in children younger than 2 years old. Granted, these adverse effects would in all probability not occur if a child had wrongly ingested one pill, but the describing the pills as not dangerous was deceitful. Read more on this incident at The Fix or Vice.

Seroquel is an antipsychotic medication and Depakote is an anti-seizure medication that carries the label of “mood stabilizer” when used as a psychiatric medication. Antipsychotics are frequently combined with mood stabilizers in the treatment of bipolar disorder. A September 2105 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, “Treatment of Young People with Antipsychotic Medications in the United States,” examined at the prescription patterns among young people in the United States. The study looked at four age groups: younger children (1-6 years), older children (7-12 years), adolescents (13-18 years), and young adults (19-24 years).

The researchers found that most of the individuals treated with antipsychotics did not have a medical claim that included a mental disorder diagnosis. The percentages by age group were as follows: younger children (60.0%), older children (56.7%), adolescents (62.0%), and young adults (67.1%). When there was a diagnosis, the most common one was ADHD with younger children (52.5%), older children (60.1%) and adolescents (34.9%). Depression was the most commonly given diagnosis among young adults (34.5%).

Consistent with clinical diagnoses suggesting that antipsychotics are primarily used to manage impulsive or aggressive behaviors in children associated with ADHD, the highest rate of antipsychotic treatment was in adolescent boys, approximately half of whom also filled prescriptions for stimulants. Young adults treated with antipsychotics were more frequently diagnosed as having depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder than ADHD.

A National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) press release on the study, quoted a co-author, Michael Schoenbaum, as saying antipsychotics should be prescribed with care. “They can adversely affect both physical and neurological function and some of their adverse effects can persist even after the medication is stopped.” He added what was particularly important about the study’s findings was that 1.5% of boys aged 10-18 are on antipsychotics. This rate was abruptly cut in half as adolescents become young adults.

In the current study, the combination of peak use of antipsychotics in adolescent boys and the diagnoses associated with prescriptions (often ADHD) suggest that these medications are being used to treat developmentally limited impulsivity and aggression rather than psychosis.

Mad in America quoted Dr. Christopher Correll, the medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health, who noted that the powerful and almost immediate problems with antipsychotics can include weight gain and high glucose levels (a possible precursor of diabetes). “Prescribing antipsychotics seems predominantly aimed at aggressive and impulsive behaviors, especially in males, where the disruption in school and home insists on action and remediating symptoms.”

The study commented how the above noted decrease in prescribed antipsychotics after adolescence may be due to the normal maturation of neurobiological systems in late adolescence and early adulthood. “This normal maturation of neurobiological systems may underlie the decrease in antipsychotic treatment prevalence during late adolescence among youth who do not have enduring cognitive impairments and long-term severe behavioral disorders.” High rates of coprescribing antipsychotics with other classes of drugs were observed across all age groups. Stimulants (probably for ADHD) were the most commonly prescribed psychotropic class during preadolescent years.

A likely outcome in these cases is that agitation from the ADHD stimulants contributes to an increase in aggression among preadolescents, which results in the prescription of an antipsychotic to address the aggression. Dr. Peter Breggin said: “The antipsychotic drugs are often given to children when their behavior and mental state deteriorates as a result of being given stimulants.”  Follow the link here to a page on his website where he discusses the potential harm from the psychiatric diagnosing and drugging of children. The page includes links to several videos in his Simple Truth series on YouTube that address topics such as: the harmful effects and action of stimulant drugs; and the negative effects of diagnosing children with ADHD. There is also a link to one of his articles published in Children & Society that “presents a scientific and ethical overview of the harm done to children by stimulants and by antipsychotics.”

The drugging of children in America and increasingly throughout the world is a tragedy.  Millions upon millions of children and youth will never know their full potential because they grew up with an intoxicated brain — their neurotransmitters forever deformed by being bathed in these drugs during their formative years.  Additional millions will become career consumers of psychiatric drugs with a vastly reduced quality of life and shortened lives.


Psychiatry’s Mythical Phoenix

Prominent research psychiatrists are beginning to sound like their “antipsychiatric” critics. They are saying the current DSM diagnostic system isn’t valid; that something new, something scientifically sound and useful for treating patients is needed. One of these research psychiatrists is Thomas Insel, the Director of the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). He dropped a bombshell last year when he announced that the NIMH would be “re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” The New York Times quoted Insel as saying: “As long as the research community takes the D.S.M. to be a bible, we’ll never make progress. . . . People think that everything has to match D.S.M. criteria, but you know what? Biology never read that book.”

So the NIMH has developed a new research strategy to classify mental disorders based upon “dimensions of observable behavior and neurobiological measures.” This strategic plan is known as: Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). The long-term goal is for RDoC to be “a framework to guide classification of patients for research studies.” It was not meant to be a useful clinical tool. “It is hoped that by creating a framework that interfaces directly with genomics, neuroscience, and behavioral science, progress in explicating etiology and suggesting new treatments will be markedly facilitated.”

RDoC is in search of the holy grail of psychiatry: reliable biomarkers (measurable indicators of a biological state or condition) for mental disorders. This search for biomarkers has been going on for decades. David Kupfer, the chair of the DSM-5 Task Force said: “We’ve been telling patients for several decades that we are waiting for biomarkers. We’re still waiting.” Susan Kamens suggested that the imminent discovery of biomarkers has been “the driving expectation of psychiatry since its birth in the 18th century.” But there are some problems with the RDoC quest.

What RDoC proposes is to replace the DSM diagnoses used currently to frame mental health research with broad categories based upon cognitive, behavioral and neural mechanisms. This means that the NIMH will be supporting research projects that look across or sub-divide existing DSM categories. But this very same DSM is what is used to assess the potential of future NIMH-funded research under RDoC.

In an article found in Nature, “Psychiatry Framework Seeks to Reform Diagnostic Doctrine,” Nassir Ghaemi said: “It is very hard for people who have been following the DSM their entire professional lives to suddenly give it up.” Ghaemi has felt shackled by the DSM. He wanted to do some research that cut across DSM categories. But his colleagues warned him against straying too far from the DSM structure when he applied for funding from the NIMH, because peer reviewers tended to insist on research structured by the DSM. So he held off from applying.

Steven Hyman, a former NIMH director, blames the DSM for hampering research into the biological or genetic basis of psychiatric illness. He said it was “a fool’s errand” to use symptom-based DSM diagnosis with little basis in nature to try and find a biomarker. Hyman urged the NIMH to think about how biomarkers identified by RDoC would be incorporated into mental health practice with the DSM. “It would be very problematic for the research and clinical enterprises to wake up in a decade to a yawning gulf.”

But Susan Kamens sees a deeper problem with blaming the DSM for hampering the search for biomarkers—it takes for granted that the biomarkers exist. In other words, it presumes what it seeks to find. According to Kamens:

“The main difference is belief versus doubt in the hypothesis that what we call mental disorder is primarily a disorder of biology. We treat that hypothesis as unfalsifiable, as if the proof [that mental disorder is biological] arrived before the evidence. We don’t test whether the hypothesis holds; we test whether and how to make the data fit it. When critics raise doubts, they’re often accused of ignoring the very same evidence that psychiatric researchers have recently declared to be utterly insufficient.”

Kamens noted that the RDoC “blueprint” is no less theoretical that the DSM-5. While the RDoC constructs are more measurable than the categories listed in the DSM, they are “essentially no more than basic human emotions and behaviors.”  She asked how RDoC would make clinically meaningful determinations into its “domains” and “constructs”? How would the research reveal anything beyond the coordinates of normal psychological processes? “In other words, how is RDoC anything beyond basic (nonclinical) neuroscience?”

RDoC is developing a new research model that will undoubtedly yield unprecedented data, but it focuses on the biogenetic correlates and normative mapping of basic psychological processes like visual perception, language, fear responses, and circadian rhythms. The idea is to create interventions for psychological and physiological processes that deviate from the norm. For this reason, RDoC is less likely to save psychiatry than it is to resurrect eugenics.

The quest for biomarkers in psychiatry can be likened to the legend of the phoenix, a mythological bird that repeatedly rises out of the ashes of its predecessor. The DSM seems to be near end of its life-cycle. Now psychiatry is building an RDoC “nest” that it will eventually ignite, reducing both the DSM and RDoC to ashes. And from these ashes, it is hoped, a new diagnostic system—a new phoenix—will arise.

Also see my blog post, “Psychiatry Has No Clothes.”


Psychiatry Has No Clothes

On April 29th of 2013, there was an astounding blog post by Thomas Insel, the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). He said that although the DSM-5 was due to be released in a few weeks, the NIMH would be “re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” He noted that while the DSM has been referred to as a “Bible” for the field of mental health, “It is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each.” Did you get that? The Director of the NIMH said the DSM was a “dictionary” that created “labels.” It was not, then functioning adequately, in his opinion, as its title suggests: as a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders! (emphasis added)

Insel said its strength had been “reliability”, meaning that it provided a way for clinicians to use the same terms in the same way. Its weakness was that it lacked validity. DSM diagnoses are based upon a consensus about clusters of symptoms and not any objective laboratory measure. “In the rest of medicine, that would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever.”

Insel was not using “reliability” in a statistical sense. In “The Myth of the Reliability of DSM,” Stuart Kirk and Herb Kutchins demonstrated conclusively that the DSM-III and DSM-IIIR were not statistically reliable. In fact, using the same statistic that Robert Spitzer used to justify the major changes to the DSM in the 1970s, they demonstrated that:

The reliability problem is much the same as it was 30 years ago [before the DSM-III]. Only now the current developers of the DSM-IV have de-emphasised the reliability problem and claim to be scientifically solving other problems.

Unfortunately, the tables in Figures 1 and 2 have been removed from the online version of their article. But the tables are still available in the original article found in the Journal of Mind and Behavior, 15 (1&2), 1994, p. 71-86. These tables plainly showed how the DSM statistical reliability was not what it was claimed to be. The Selling of the DSM (1992) by Stuart Kirk and Herb Kutchins has the tables. And there is a graphic comparison of the data within Mad Science (2013) by Stuart Kirk, Tomi Gomory, and David Cohen.

Insel went on in his blog to say that the NIMH will be supporting research projects that “look across current categories” or sub-divide them in order to begin to develop a better system. “We are committed to new and better treatments, but we feel this will only happen by developing a more precise diagnostic system.” In order to work towards that goal, the NIMH launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). RDoC is only a research framework for now; a decade-long project that is just beginning. You can learn more about RDoC here (on the NIMH website).

Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epidemic, said in a March 2014 interview that Insel stating that the DSM lacked validity was an acknowledgement the “disease model” has failed as a basis for making psychiatric diagnoses.

When Insel states that the disorders haven’t been validated, he is stating that the entire edifice that modern psychiatry is built upon is flawed, and unsupported by science. That is like the King of Psychiatry saying that the discipline has no clothes. If the public loses faith in the DSM and comes to see it as unscientific, then psychiatry has a real credibility problem on its hands.

Two weeks later on May 13, 2013, a joint press release was made by Thomas Insel and Jeffrey Liebermann, the President-elect of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They said that the NIMH and the APA had a shared interest to ensure that patients and healthcare providers had “the best available tools and information” to identify and treat mental health issues.

Today, the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), along with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) represents the best information currently available for clinical diagnosis of mental disorders. . . . The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has not changed its position on DSM-5. As NIMH’s Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project website states: “The diagnostic categories represented in the DSM-IV and the International Classification of Diseases-10 (ICD-10, containing virtually identical disorder codes) remain the contemporary consensus standard for how mental disorders are diagnosed and treated.”

The DSM and RDoC were said to be complementary, not competing frameworks. As research findings emerge from RDoC, they may be incorporated into future DSM revisions. “But this is a long-term undertaking. It will take years to fulfill the promise that this research effort represents for transforming the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.”

Saul Levine, the CEO and Medical Director of the APA said on May 5, 2014 that the DSM and the RDoC will “begin to come together” as the research from NIMH is included into the way they diagnose mental illness. They know that mental illness and substance use disorders are a bio-psycho-social illness. “We work very well together with NIMH. And I think that the whole field is looking to the science coming out of NIMH to include it as a way to help get better treatment for patients in this country.”

So the APA and NIMH affirm they are working towards the same goals as complementary research frameworks. Someday the research findings of RDoC may even be included into the DSM. But until then, the NIMH will have to continue to “ooh and aah” at the APA’s DSM and ignore the nay-sayers crying: “Look at the DSM; look at the DSM!”

Does it seem that psychiatry is trying to promote an unreliable, invalid—perhaps invisible—system of diagnosis?

Also see my blog post, “Psychiatry’s Mythical Phoenix.”