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Marilyn Wedge Ph.D. – The ADHD Culture: A Machiavellian Tale

Today, one in eight American children is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In 1987, when ADHD made its debut in the American PsychiatricAssociation’s diagnostic manual (DSM-III-R), the authors estimated that only 1 in 33 children had the condition. This number included children with known central nervous system disorders like cerebral palsy, encephalitis, and epilepsy—diseases that were known to cause hyperactivity in children.

Before 1980, the drugging of children with amphetamines on a massive scale was unheard of, even unimaginable. What most people could not envisage, however, was well within the imaginative scope of marketing departments of drug companies. In the 1930’s, the company Smith, Kline and French (GlaxoSmithKline) had manufactured an amphetamine called “Benzedrine.”

Though first marketed in an inhaler for nasal congestion, Benzedrine became known for its capacity to enhance focus. Pediatric neurologist Charles Bradley found that Benzedrine helped children with encephalitis and other well-known neurological disorders to focus on their school work. Bradley insisted, however, that if the cause of a child’s inability to focus was emotional stress like trauma or a chaotic home life, then the preferred treatment was psychotherapy.

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