Monday, 10 December 2012

Stimulant medications and automaton kids: Sociobable or substantive concern?

It is fashionable in some domains of public discourse to denigrate psychostimulant medications and their therapeutic impact on young people living with ADHD.  In particular, it is not uncommon to find armchair philosophers, scientologists or even research na├»ve journalists happily spouting off about the way that psychostimulants turn young people into robots, take away their feelings and generally make them less than human.

These medications are, in the mouths of those espousing such opinions, at best dehumanizing and perhaps worse. 

They are supposed to take away the mind and the soul of those to whom they have been prescribed. They are supposed to make young people less authentic as individuals and are supposed to block their ability to make critical considerations about their ability to function, on or off the medications.  In short, they are a challenge to authenticity and damage moral agency.

An interesting aspect of this pontificating has been the strength by which these opinions are held, interestingly enough not supported by data addressing authenticity or moral agency. This certainly does not mean it is unimportant, only that it needs empirical evidence to either support or refute the opinion. This would therefore classify it as an informed opinion, not simply an opinion.

So, what does the data show us? Click here to view an interesting article recently published by the British Medical Journal. Interestingly, the author asked what young people’s experiences and considerations were. Further interesting, the conclusion states: “drawing on a study involving over 150 families in two countries, I show that children are able to report threats to authenticity related to stimulant drug treatments, but the majority of children are not concerned with such threats. On balance, children report that stimulant drugs improve their capacity for moral agency, and that they associate this capacity with an ability to meet normative expectations.” In other words, children treated with these medications appreciate their therapeutic value while at the same time preferring not to be taking them and not liking the side effects.

Wow. We would expect the same response from young people taking insulin or medications that treat heart problems or cancer. Interesting however, is the observation that armchair philosophers, scientologists, sociobabblers and others do not set their vitriolic sights on those other types of medication treatments. Maybe treatments for traditional “physical” conditions are okay, but treatments for traditional “mental” conditions are not. Maybe there is a gross misunderstanding that mental actually means brain and brains can get sick, just like the pancreas or the heart. We seem to miss out on the data, i.e. the facts that speak to this exact reasoning which can shed some light to the notion that the difference should not exist.

In my opinion, this is either a lack of knowledge writ large or a familiarity with knowledge submerged in prejudice.  It is hard to know which would be worse, but the stigma that this vitriol contributes to is real.


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