"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 4 April 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Intention Deficit Disorder

The hard times are gone, now, for Cherie Gajewski.
"Behind her," the Buffalo News reports, "are
the dark days of toddlerhood... Second grade has
proved a cakewalk compared to the trauma of
preschool." And what set the seven year-old free from
her lifetime of anguish? It's right there in the
pleasantly descriptive first sentence of the story, in
Cherie's It's-Miller-Time-for-the-Teletubbies cry of: "Here
comes my 
happy medicine!" 
Gajewski's mom
figures the daily dose of 
— Cherie is in her
fourth year on the drug — just makes good common
sense. As she tells the News: "Would I deny her
Robitussin for a cold?" 

Cherie takes the drug "to help tame a severe anxiety disorder, the byproduct of strokes she suffered in the womb." And who among us would be so hard of heart as to deny treatment to our littlest apoplectics? A story in the next day's New York Times lays down a similar barrier to argument, quoting the director of the National Institute for Mental Health: If a kid is engaged in behaviors like "self-mutilation" or "head banging," explains Dr. Steven Hyman, "you should try medication."

Just one problem: There are more than a few self-mutilating, severely anxious survivors of womb trauma on the monkey bars out there. Children in North America received 800,000 new prescriptions for antidepressants alone in 1997, for example, and a February report in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that annual prescriptions for psychiatric drugs like Zoloft and Ritalin rose by fifty percent among preschoolers between 1991 and 1995. And then, too, reports the Times, "Researchers say 20 percent of white boys are taking (Ritalin) in some suburban school districts." Of course, twenty percent of white boys in suburban school districts have been known to bang their heads, but that was mostly back in the eighties, and it never damaged much more than their hair.

"A child's nervous system is so undeveloped
compared to an adult's," one psychiatrist tells the
News, "so we don't know exactly what we're
doing when we're prescribing some of those drugs to
them." Which means that she won't prescribe
them? Of course not;  this particular doctor "tries
all other techniques before she'll prescribe drugs for
youngsters." Missing the point, 
Coyle, chairman of the
psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School
in, in the February JAMA, with the argument
that "there is no empirical evidence to support
psychotropic drug treatment in very young children."
Go back a few sentences: The other medical
professionals who share that view are the doctors
who are prescribing psychotropic drugs to very young
children. But only after they give some other
stuff a shot, hey. 

And the cocktails of uppers, downers, and SSRIs aren't the only realities of contemporary childhood that suggest the possibility that large numbers of grade-schoolers may someday sign with Colonel Tom, do a bunch of shitty movies, and die on the toilet. A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation last November concluded that two-thirds of American children eight and over have their own television sets in the bedroom; ninety-five percent of the participating children above the age of seven told the foundation's researchers that they mostly watched TV alone, wherever the set happened to be. And they take an adult work week to do it, spending nearly forty hours a week consuming media product, the majority of it in television programming. So, yes: He always seems so listless and depressed - we may have to put him on Zoloft to help him succeed in kindergarten.

All this helps explain why the nursery schoolers who 
clean the Suck offices on some kind of after-school 
work release program seem both manic and incoherent, 
but what makes the little fuckers so 
With at
least 25 percent of all Americans under age nineteen
now overweight or obese, prozac maker Eli Lilly is
gearing up for record levels of insulin
manufacturing. The company sold nearly $400
million worth of that drug in a single quarter last
year, and business is getting better every day.
"You've got to be in diabetes," a company official
helpfully explains in a recent Harper's article 
by Greg Critser. (Enjoyably, Critser describes fast
food restaurants as the bathhouses of the childhood
obesity epidemic, "the places where the high-risk
population indulges in high-risk behavior.")

You can't really blame Lilly and other captains of chemistry for preparing to meet the market, though, and neither can you really be surprised by their efforts to create it. As industrial behavior, this is merely insightful. Toy manufacturers and Gannett newspapers aside, no one really sells to children for the sake of selling to children; Burger King gives away all of those free Squirtle action figures at least in part so that your toddler will one day pick up his or her freshman ten — to supplement his childhood fifty or sixty, judging by Critser's story — on Big Fish sandwiches and the Whopper Jr. with cheese. Everybody, or at least everybody who wants to make some money, does it, and it's not what you would call a big secret.

The campaign to convince parents that even dodgeball requires psychopharmacological intervention makes an even tidier bit of sense when considered as evolutionary behavior. Today's four-year-old pharmaceutical cocktailer is 2030's chemically engineered profit center, patched together with chains that fall apart if you take the pills away, exactly the sort of two-legged aphids on which our economic hive will feed.

Sadly, some anti-business types refuse to play along.
When Nancy DiStasio's third-grader was diagnosed with
ADD, reports the Buffalo News, she turned to a
support group for answers; the guest speaker, at her
very first meeting, was a drug company representative.
Then she called a local ADD program and asked if there
were any studies her son could participate in; there
sure are, she learned, and the drug companies even
provide all the medication for you. Eventually, and
with much effort, DiStasio found a researcher at the
University of Buffalo who was trying a revolutionary
technique to treat hyperactive and unfocused children:
Exercise. At the end of the six week study, the
reactionary, neo-Luddite mother noticed significant
improvements in her son's behavior. "He was calmer,"
she told the News. "He didn't pick fights with
his siblings. He was a lot more polite." And he's
still pretty much calmed down, the newspaper adds,
"especially after he plays hockey."

Which is about as shocking as the conclusion that heavy petting leads to sex. Rigorously instructed in a lifestyle of social disconnection and persistent passivity, our most heavily medicated children suffer a poverty of intention, a deep lack of the learned ability to take ordinary action to fulfill the same healthy and unhealthy instincts that children have always felt, somewhere, in some undamaged core of thought. While this situation makes sense as a business proposition, we should note that there is also a more tribal, patriotic appeal. Depression may hurt you, but your whining hurts society as a whole, and whining parents tend to generate whining young. The age of digital commerce looks no more likely to reward inanition than did the age of mechanized warfare. By identifying our slow movers early, and shuffling them off to a happier place, we are merely clearing the way to prosperity for better citizens. Like the past, the future will belong not to the lotus-eating automatons but to the disgruntled overachievers — but if the dummies ever start to figure that out we'll have to double their dosages.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers

pictures Terry Colon

Ambrose Beers