Drugs for unruly kids attacked

Denver Post, November 10, 1999
By Peter G. Chronis

Nov. 10, 1999 - A parade of experts appeared before a group of legislators Tuesday to point accusatory fingers at psychotropic medications, such as Ritalin and Luvox, claiming a connection between the drugs and an epidemic of school shootings.

Tuesday's hearing coincides with a drive before the state Board of Education to pass a resolution forbidding schools from making parents put disruptive children on Ritalin. The board will hear additional testimony today and is expected to vote on the resolution Thursday.

Several speakers Tuesday hinted at a sinister alliance of pharmaceutical companies and health professionals to prescribe the drugs for unruly school kids. Some said attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, for which the drugs often are prescribed, was an illness made up by the psychiatric profession.

Countering the well-orchestrated blitz of out-of-town experts were local mental health advocates who said much of the information was skewed and out of context.

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, is planning a Nov. 17 news conference in Washington, D.C., to present scientific information supporting the medical diagnosis of

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a spokesman for the group said. The group of legislators that met Tuesday, chaired by Rep. Penn Pfiffner, RLakewood, has no power to pass or recommend legislation.

The group met to explore a possible link between the drugs and school violence because suicidal Columbine killer Eric Harris had been on Luvox, and schoolyard killers elsewhere supposedly took similar medications. Leading off at the hearing was Bruce Wiseman of California, national president of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which he said is a watchdog group.

Pfiffner confirmed that the commission is linked to the Church of Scientology.

Wiseman called medicating children "one of the most dangerous and insidious'' issues facing the nation and blamed increased violence on giving 5 million children "mind-altering drugs'' for "a mental disorder that has no basis in fact.''

The drugs, Wiseman said, make students more violent, cause suicide and create "kid killers.''

Wiseman said such drugs were linked to killings, including the May 1997 murder of a 7-year-old girl in a Las Vegas casino restroom by Jeremy Strohmeyer, and school killings in Pearl, Miss., West Paducah, Ky., Jonesboro, Ark., and Springfield, Ore.

Dr. Peter Breggin, an M.D. and psychiatrist, flew in from London to testify that Ritalin reduces difficult behavior for about five or six weeks but there's "no evidence that Ritalin improves long-term behavior.'' Breggin said he had obtained data that showed Harris was taking Luvox, which he said has a "cocaine-like effect'' that can cause violent behavior. Breggin said the "scietific evidence is irrefutable'' that Luvox causes "psychotic mania'' in about 4 percent of the young people who take it. On the other side, Dr. Marshall Thomas, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Medical School, speaking on behalf of the Colorado Behavioral Health Care, told Pfiffner he was concerned about violence in children but hoped the committee's inquiry would be balanced and "not politicized.''

The quality of some information presented, Thomas said, was "somewhat suspect, . . . not balanced'' and the "presentations were very skewed.'' Thomas said sometimes a child diagnosed as depressed is really suffering from bipolar disorder and treating the depression "brings out the manic side.'' The medications, he noted, don't create the manic behavior. During questioning by Sen. Jim Congrove, R-Arvada, Thomas said that although one Columbine killer was on Luvox, "the other (Dylan Klebold) wasn't. Why was the other one involved?''

"You don't know that he wasn't,'' Congrove said. But Jefferson County sheriff's spokesman Steve Davis told The Denver Post, "As far as I know, Klebold had no drugs in him. I'm very sure of that. I never heard anything about him being prescribed anything.''

The national center for Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, based in Landover, Md., sent a letter last week to the Colorado Board of Education.

The letter expresses the agency's "outrage'' and "strong opposition'' to any proposal that would ban the use of psychotropic drugs among public school students.

The center estimates 3 percent to 5 percent of the student population nationwide has been diagnosed with some form of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

"Medication should not be precluded'' as a form of treatment, said Stephen Spector, director of government relations for Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. But other forms of intervention should also be used, he said.

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