Changing children into drug addicts?
Geoff Metcalf interviews psychiatry-abuse crusader Don Pierson

Every time there is a tragic school shooting -- like Columbine -- immediately the focus is on guns because that is the tool used. However, there is often another common element to some of these situations that seems to go unnoticed -- the use of psychotropic drugs by the youths involved in the tragedies.

Last year, Geoff Metcalf interviewed Dr. Ann Tracy, who offered a fact that was startling: The number of two- to four-year-old children who were taking behavior-modifying drugs has skyrocketed in the last decade.

Today, Geoff Metcalf interviews Don Pierson, the executive director of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. According to a statement posted on the CCHR website, they are a "non-profit, public benefit organization dedicated to exposing and eradicating criminal acts and human rights abuses by psychiatry." Since its founding in 1969, CCHR has grown to more than 120 chapters in 28 countries.

In this interview, however, Pierson focuses on what he says is the current wide-scale abuse of psychotropic drugs as a substitute for effective parenting and teaching -- and the parts played by pharmaceutical companies, psychiatrists, government agencies and school officials in perpetuating what many see as a serious problem affecting America's children.

By Geoff Metcalf

Question: Is there a connection between school violence and the use of psychotropic drugs?

Answer: Absolutely yes, there is. If you take a look at the evolution of the escalation of the use of psychotropic drugs and even on the labels themselves -- these drug labels talk about warnings because of psychotic behavior, violent behavior. If you have 100,000 people on these drugs and then go to five-million kids on these drugs -- and a small percentage have a reaction -- there is a correlation there. And it is statistically significant.

Q: There are some things that donít ever get addressed. Once someone has been prescribed a psychotropic drug, you canít ever own a gun, you can't get certain jobs -- you are discriminated against in the future for something you donít have any control over in the beginning. It is insidious the way this is growing. When that study came out about a year ago, it revealed the synergistic explosion in the use of these drugs. Theyíre passing them out like peanuts.

Iím always saying there are consequences to actions. There are consequences to things we do and things we donít do. And, the regrettable thing is, we have yet to see some of the future, potential consequences of this excessive use of psychotropic drugs. How excessive is it?

A: There are a number of studies that show it -- and we can address them -- but you opened this talking about children. This just came out recently, but you are talking about pre-school children -- very young children.

Q: Two- to four-year olds.

A: Two- to four-year olds. And I just want to make one anecdotal statement about it. A clinical study just came out -- this was a 1998 study -- there were just 223 children three years old or younger who were diagnosed with ADHD as part of a study in December 1996. Fifty-seven percent of these children -- many of whom could not even complete a sentence yet -- were given drugs like Ritalin and Prozac. And 33 percent were medicated with two or more of these drugs. So youíre talking about a significant abuse when these things arenít even recommended by the FDA for use by children under the age of six -- they are off-label prescriptions which, while legal, are ethically questionable.

Q: Thatís what I donít understand. I read the same piece and it says right on the label, "not for children" -- but itís legal? How can it be legal if itís a prescription drug?

A: Itís an interesting question. I think it gets to the meat of some of what we may explore.

Q: Is it really part of a pharmaceutical conspiracy and the way they control things for the money? But, come on -- if it says donít give it to a kid and a doctor gives it to a kid, is he culpable for any kind of medical malpractice?

A: As it stands right now, the answer to that is no. Should he be? Then, I think there is a legal question we should look at. Youíve got a label -- that is a nebulous label anyway -- and very often the drugs become the focus of the problem. And, yes, there is a correlation between violent behavior and these drugs.

Q: Now, critics will say, wait a minute -- the reason they are on these drugs is because they are suffering from some kind of psychological malady and the drugs are a means to mitigate whatever the negative consequences might be.

A: Theyíll say that. However, if you actually delve into the research -- and I know this gets beyond what people actually delve into because they only have so much time to address an issue like this -- I think our childrenís lives are at stake.

And it is worthy of noting that the correlation between the behaviors that come out violently and the drugs, and the change of the ideation -- the mental process -- and the way it changes after a person is taken off the drugs. It shows that it isnít what the critics say (that we should keep them on the drugs because if we keep them on the drugs then they wonít be violent). No, the drugs themselves cause it -- and when they go off those drugs and off them for a while, the ideation that goes along with that behavior can disappear or diminish. So, while I hear that argument, I think that what you are really doing is youíre labeling, drugging, ostracizing and marginalizing our children -- which itself becomes a form of abuse.

Q: Letís back up to the beginning. What is it that these drugs do? They affect the brain and the brain chemistry.

A: I think itís important we talk about these drugs, but it is also important we talk about the whole system that actually is the system of abuse that allows it to be the solution to the problem.

But letís just take a common one -- that is very common now -- and that is Ritalin. If you even go to the manufacturer, themselves, the manufacturer warns on the label "frank psychotic episodes can occur."

Q: Doctor, it hurts when I go like this. "Well, donít go like that!"

A: Yeah. So youíre feeding millions of children first the Attention Deficit label -- that is the most common. Second, the most common solution to that -- which is these drugs. Then you are saying that with violent behavior occurring at some percentage that you are not feeding fuel to the fire? Youíve got this labeling process that puts the kids in this situation in the first place then the drugs escalate the process!

Q: Don, the labeling process really ticks me off because "Attention Deficit Disorder" probably would have been the diagnosis of people like Beethoven, Bach and Einstein (who was a lousy student in school). These remarkable people would have been drugged to an homogenized, outcome-based sameness and never would have achieved what they achieved.

Two hundred thousand school-aged kids, two- to four-years old on some flavor of psychotropic drug like Ritalin and Prozac? It rose 50 percent in four years (1991-1995). I donít know how much itís grown since then. But it seems you are just adding fuel to a fire that probably wonít erupt until these kids reach puberty.

A: Thatís exactly right. I think you hit something very key. Some of our best and brightest and most productive people currently and in history ...

Q: Bill Gates?

A: Yeah, Bill Gates. And how many of them, if they were in the current system right now, would be labeled -- and drugged as a control mechanism -- because their behaviors would have been something that would be considered outside the norm?

And, therefore, when you take every form of behavior that is not exactly down the channel, and you label it as a form of deviance, youíre doing a major disservice to the children who are going to be the workforce and the citizens of our new economy of tomorrow. So I think itís a very key question and you have to go right to the root of the problem. You go younger and it only gets worse.

Q: What is really annoying is that this Attention Deficit Disorder -- which allegedly requires some kind of pharmaceutical mitigation -- is really a function of the teacher not wanting or being able to take the time or special counseling that is needed to develop a kid that may be different.

A: It is a challenge. I had an opportunity to give a presentation to a university group of graduate students who were already teachers, already out in the market place. You find some of the greatest people in the teaching profession and you see they really care and they really want to go in the right direction. But if you start feeding them the viewpoint that every form of deviant behavior has to be dealt with as a medical disease -- and therefore it has to be treated like diabetes and heart disease -- you are not doing them justice.

These teachers said that they could, through their classroom techniques and through academic approaches, deal with that. But, of course, they had to have the time and the energy. What happens is you start to see this whole mindset inculcated into the mindset of the teacher -- which means you drive them towards the psychiatric label, drive them toward the drugging and use it as a controlling mechanism. I think it is a disservice to the kids.

Especially, when you look at the statistics coming down right now. We just got the most recent numbers for this year from the Department of Justice of the some 300,000 plus kids who are on Ritalin and similar drugs in California -- it breaks down by age group. The number under the age of six is the largest section of that group. That scares me (for what your question was of where are we going with this fifteen years from now)!

Q: As dangerous as these drugs are -- and they are not dangerous because I say so or you say so but because it says so on the label ...

A: Thatís exactly right.

Q: The manufacturers say this stuff is dangerous. What happens when the patient stops taking their "medication"?

A: It may be a little-known fact, but the fact is that withdrawal from psychotropic drugs can actually cause violent reactions. These are not benign substances. They have a cumulative effect in terms of brain chemistry. They cause a whole mental process.

Q: By the way, I recall from my Ann Tracy interview that these drugs are similar to LSD because of the serotonin connection.

A: Thatís exactly right. These are dangerous drugs. They are being prescribed to large numbers of people, including very young children. I think one needs to be very intelligent as one looks at coming off the drugs. I would certainly tell any parent or any individual, without any equivocation whatsoever, these drugs do not have any positive benefit that outweighs the destructive nature. Just look at the back side of any ad on any of these drugs and see the tremendous amount of negatives -- a whole page of fine print of the side effects.

Q: So what do you say to a parent who gets a call from school, "Johnny has been diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder and we need to put him on Ritalin." What does the parent say to the school? What is the sequence of events? What do they say when they first get that call? And what follows if or when you try to fight this?

A: Letís first address the sequence and then weíll talk about what happens when you fight it. Several parents have certainly fought it successfully and some have had real battles.

Q: In some cases, schools will call in Child Protective Services and give your child the drug without your authorization or approval.

A: They absolutely will. Or, in some cases, theyíll do like they did to some parents in New York and say, "We will file a medical neglect suit against you and we'll take the kid away from you. We will say you are being an abusive parent -- child abuse! -- if you do not give them this particular drug." In this case, it happened to be Ritalin.

What they are really arguing in the underlying premise is: "We know itís a disease. We can diagnose it. Attention Deficit Disorder is just like diabetes or heart disease, therefore, we can predictably help your child with Ritalin." All of that is the logic behind it and that logic is fallacious.

A couple of years ago there was a consensus hearing of the best and brightest of the psychiatric community who gathered together under the auspices of the National Institute of Health in 1998. It was a development conference on the diagnosis and treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They tried to formulate what was the scientific foundation.

This is a critical point for parents to understand. When they did that, the 31 best papers presented by the best professionals came up with the following statement as their final statement of how conclusive this could be: "We donít have an independent valid test for ADHD. There are no data to indicate that ADHD is due to a brain malfunction. Existing studies come to conflicting conclusions as to whether use of psycho-stimulants increases or decreases the risk of abuse and, finally, after years of research and experience with ADHD, our knowledge about the cause or causes of ADHD remains speculative."

Q: Hold on! I thought before something could be prescribed there had to be clinical tests and peer reviews?

A: That would seem like the logical medical approach to take.

Q: I thought it was required -- not just logical, but required.

A: But you've got to deal with something here. We are dealing with a profession which has created its own model. The diagnostic and statistical manual which has hundreds and hundreds of "diseases" in it -- I put "diseases" in quotes here -- everything your child could possibly do in school, believe me, it falls in some category of "mental disorder," which is billable and reimbursable by insurance companies and treatable with drugs, such as Ritalin. The modeling of the labeling process is in the DSM, Diagnostic Statistical Manual, that is the root of this kind of ability to do this without the kind of protections you talk about.

Q: This is very similar to what they did with Outcome-Based Education in which they had a program called "Parents as Teachers" -- or something like that. It required a volunteer to come into your home and conduct a survey to determine if your child was "at risk." That sounds cool: Hey, I want to know if my child is at risk. However, I remember going through the list years ago. Every single question on that list -- you watch too much TV, you watch no TV, you have a Bible in the home, you read the Bible in your home, you eat together, you donít eat together -- every single question was designed to produce the result that your child was at risk. And once the child is labeled as "at risk," then big brother, the state, comes in and tells you what to do or else.

A: Thatís exactly right. And, I think to your second question -- "What do you tell the parent?" -- the first thing I tell them is donít let anybody tell you that ADHD is a documentable disease that is just like heart disease, and your kid has it and we can predictably diagnose it. That quote from the experts I just read you that want to prove that it does exist couldnít even come up with a definitive statement that they agreed upon. There are other alternatives of which an individual parent needs to take the time to find out about.

Q: Iím going to say it again. Some people donít want to be confused with facts that contradict their preconceived opinions.

A: Donít bother me with the truth when Iíve got a preconceived notion.

Q: Yeah.

A: I think when our kids future is at risk, as a parent of a couple of daughters, I can certainly say as active as my kids have been (one of them is still in high school), a parent has to be vigilant, especially when their children are younger, to make sure that they give them every opportunity for whatever -- life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness -- to avoid this marginalizing, labeling and drugging that is occurring to so many kids these days. You need to know what the alternatives are. There are nutritional alternatives.

Iím not saying there are not behaviors that become a challenge or a problem. But letís not label our behaviors as diseases and then say that we treat them as we treat heart disease or diabetes.

Q: I am not a professional and I donít presume to have the solution. However, I know that one thing that has worked for a lot of parents -- particularly with young boys who are frequently diagnosed ADHD -- is you get them involved in something like sports where they get tired and they sweat a lot and then many of those problems go away.

A: They get very, very busy. A coach once came to speak to one of our CCHR dinners and he was talking about one of his kids who was going down that route of being labeled and he isnít inclined to have his kids labeled. So heís on the basketball team, he does a little talking to him -- he talks to the kid about his responsibility -- he gets him focused on his sport, the team is going pretty good. And, lo and behold, where does the disease go? It disappears.

Q: What disease? Didnít you just tell us the experts couldnít document that there is such a thing.

A: Exactly right and I think thatís the whole point of this.

Q: When did they do that study again?

A: That was 1998.

Q: The pharmaceutical industry must have gone ballistic when that came out?

A: Yeah. You have to recognize the pharmaceutical industry gets a lot of benefit out of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. When you can take something like low math scores, you can have a math disorder, you can have verbal scores below your level chronologically and you can have a verbal disorder -- you start calling every one of these behaviors a mental disease. Itís just a sort of catch all that is catching a whole lot of our kids.

Q: I asked you earlier and you only answered half the question: When the school calls to tell you little Johnny has ADHD and we need to put him on Ritalin and you say, "No. Youíre not going to do that." Then what? There are some real horror stories.

A: There was a case in New York ...

Q: I wrote a piece about that one.

A: This woman made a decision. She said, "No way!" Well, she got "child abuse / medical neglect."

Q: They took her kid from her.

A: They took her kid from her. She ended up having to fight. I heard her speak at an event where she was getting an award and she said, "I will never shut up." Sheís going to keep talking, keep asking questions. She is not going to buy this line that her child has some kind of disease.

She got hit with medical neglect/child abuse, take your kid away. And any well meaning parent, if they get hit with that, is going to start questioning their own integrity. I say: No, donít question your own integrity because the only way to stop those horror stories is for more parents to say I am looking for alternatives and I am going to do something different with what my kid is going to do for their future. Once the labeling starts -- you mentioned several things that stop in their future life, things they canít do because theyíve been labeled. But the short term is they become marginalized.

And while weíve heard the argument that we shouldnít have labeling of a psychiatric disease cause a stigma, I say the reverse. What happens is this: It isnít that it causes the stigma, itís actually that it is destructive to the individual. So you want to prevent them from getting in the system where there is no way out -- where help isnít really help but, rather, something that is really harming the individual.

Q: The manufacturers of these drugs tell us they interfere with serotonin metabolism. What does that mean?

A: If you take the premise that all these are diseases -- and they are diseases like any other disease of the body -- and the brain is a part of the body and therefore all of it stems from there, if you buy that argument, what the psychiatrist is trying to do is say: We will find a drug that will change the balance of the chemistry in the brain. Serotonin uptake inhibitors are a means of doing that with the intent in mind of changing the chemistry of the brain so therefore it changes the behavior of the individual.

Q: One thing Iíve never understood and maybe you can help me. With hyperactive kids, they want to slow them down so, basically, they give them a legal amphetamine because, pre-puberty, it acts like a depressant. But what is the impact when the kid hits puberty?

A: Methylphenidate -- or Ritalin -- is speed. Thatís what it is. Itís an amphetamine. Itís not good for the individual. There are studies that show the correlation between the onset of other drug addictions and drug abuse when they were prescribed drugs. When you take a look at that -- and I think the number-three drug of abuse right now on college campuses and among high school students is Ritalin -- this is a street drug that started as a prescription drug and is now also used as a street drug. So what happens when you take the kid off? You are creating drug addicts when you put kids on this stuff at a young age. Thatís what youíre actually doing. Regardless of any justification for it, there isnít any that would justify creating an individual that would have a propensity toward further drug abuse because of the labeling and drugging of the person as a small child.

There was a report in the archives of General Psychiatry that came out in '95 and it said, "Cocaine is one of the most reinforcing and addicting of the abused drugs. It has pharmacologic actions that are very similar to Ritalin." In the same year, the Drug Enforcement Agency made a statement about the Ritalin and cocaine connection by saying, "It is clear that Ritalin substitutes for cocaine and deamphetamine in a number of behavioral paradigms. Expressing the concern that one in every 30 Americans ..." and they go on to give some statistics about how many people are getting it. So, we are actually creating a whole leaning toward drug abuse when you start kids at a very young age.

Q: Researchers tell us that five, 10, 20 years from now, it is not improbable that we could find we have another Thalidomide thing on our hands. The sad thing is, there should be enough facts in evidence right now, such as that 1998 study you read from. There is so much overwhelming statistical evidence that this garbage is , it opens the door to those conspiratorial questions of is the pharmaceutical industry conspiring to flood the market with this stuff? Or let me put it this way: Is there a symbiotic connection between the pharmaceutical industry and the psychiatric community?

A: I have my biases and opinions but weíre going to find out. The recently filed class-action lawsuit, which is being handled by the same firm that did the tobacco-industry lawsuit, is actually alleging that -- that there is between the manufacturer of Ritalin, Novartis (formerly Ciba-Geigy) and the American Psychiatric Association and the National Institute of Mentally Ill -- that there is, in fact, a correlation between the incidence of the increase of Ritalin and marketing and promoting the disease ADHD beyond science.

Q: Come on? Are these guys getting together in some back room to promote a non-disease disease?

A: I donít know about that. But I know that a recent article showed that $11.73 million in drug money went into the National Institute of Mentally Ill coffers over the last three years to help fund it. And they sometimes share executives to sit on boards and support them.

Q: Yeah, but wouldnít that be a normal function of wanting to help that community?

A: Thatís a great question but I think Iím too biased to answer it objectively.

Q: You said you wanted to make that Thomas Sowell observation?

A: He makes this point that we have these unleashed, murderous, rampaging individuals that occur in terms of the kids on campuses, yet, "shrinks have become confident know-it-alls after the fact and have told us what needs to be done by all and sundry. It always includes more use of the services of shrinks. The whole question about why did he do it is about lessening personal responsibility. Yet shrinks insist on explaining what they cannot explain and demonstrably could not predict."

Itís earlier than the drugs. It is why are we empowering and putting -- for 40 years --weíve had psychological and psychiatric services in our schools leaning us toward the psychiatric / psychological model and away from academics. Why donít we focus on the things that schools really should be focusing on and not trying to turn our schools into mental-health clinics with values clarification and anger management. And, if you look at the history of many of individuals back to Springfield, Ore., and the Columbine incident, you see anger management and conflict resolution and ...

Q: ... and psychotropic drugs ...

A: ... and values clarification and labeling -- all tied together to make this package that increases the violence on our campus.

Author's note: The first time I interviewed someone from CCHR, about ten years ago, their statistical critique of Prozac was compelling. However, after the interview, I heard from listeners who complained, "Did you know the Citizens Commission on Human Rights is funded by the Church of Scientology?" My response to that, while recognizing the controversy over Scientology, is "So what?" I have always tried to focus on WHAT is right or wrong rather than on WHO. It strikes me as counterproductive to reject good works because of a prejudice or bias. Some folks try to undermine the outstanding work of The Washington Times because of "Moonie" funding. Right is right and I encourage everyone to review the facts and accept or reject them on their merits.
-- Geoff Metcalf

The Citizens Commission on Human Rights can be reached at 1-800-869-2247.