Panel OKs edict on behavior drugs

Denver Post, November 12, 1999
By Peter G. Chronis

A somewhat softened but still-controversial resolution on using psychiatric medication to calm school kids with behavior problems was passed 6-1 Thursday by the state Board of Education.

"Reasoned, balanced discussion was squashed today in Colorado,'' said Kyle Sargent, director of public policy for the Mental Health Association of Colorado.

The resolution, which does not carry the force of law, has alarmed Colorado mental health advocates, who claim it results from a disinformation campaign by the Church of Scientology to blame school violence on Ritalin and other psychotropic medicines used to treat children with behavior problems. In essence, the resolution warns of dire results from using psychotropic drugs and advocates using traditional classroom methods for behavior problems.

Board member Patti Johnson of Boulder said she introduced the resolution after hearing reports of school officials forcing parents to put children on Ritalin by threatening to throw their kids out of school.

On Wednesday, Dr. William Dodson, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, spoke in rebuttal, telling the board the American Medical Association considers attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder a legitimate disorder and that the psychotropic drugs are effective in treating it.

Mental health advocate Liz Hesse said she fears Scientology "will use this as a platform'' for additional attacks in other public arenas. A similar presentation assailing AD/HD and psychiatric drugs was made to an informal gathering of state legislators on Tuesday.

The only member of the education board voting against the resolution was Gully Stanford, who had tried unsuccessfully to convince colleagues to delete a paragraph alleging "there are documented incidences of highly negative consequences in which psychiatric prescription drugs have been utilized for what are essentially problems of discipline which may be related to lack of academic success.''

Such a conclusion, he said, "properly belongs in the medical community.'' Johnson said she became interested in the issue while marching in a parade during her 1994 campaign for the board. One child struck her as a "very, very bright little boy - I thought he was a genius.''

When Johnson told the boy's mother her impressions, the woman replied, "Oh, no, that's not what his teacher is thinking.'' The teacher thought the child had AD/HD and "was pressuring'' the mom to put the boy on Ritalin, Johnson said.

That caused Johnson to begin researching, and she learned of "violent psychotic reactions'' and other side effects of taking psychiatric drugs. Johnson said she had "research to back up every single "whereas'' in the resolution.

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