Do your homework

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 19, 2002

For many parents, the school supply list doesn't end with notebook paper and backpacks. One of their shopping stops includes the pharmacy, where they renew their children's prescription for attention deficit disorder medication.

According to one source, the use of Ritalin and similar drugs to control a child's behavior and learning ability has increased more than 500 percent in recent years –

an alarming statistic. Is this disorder growing out of control – or is the tendency to medicate it?

We have no doubt that there are some children who need the drugs to coordinate brain function and control their behavior. We have seen those children in action and we have seen the benefits of Ritalin. But we have also seen misuse and abuse of Ritalin and other drugs. We have seen teachers with no medical background "diagnose" the child and request the medication. We have seen doctors prescribe the drug based solely on those teacher observations. But what is more disturbing, we have seen parents go along, blindly following those recommendations without second opinions, or even the most basic research on their own.

Five minutes on the Internet reveals many, many food allergies that mimic attention deficit hyperactive disorder. Red dyes, like those found in almost every single flavored drink that isn't 100 percent juice, can cause "hyperactive" behavior in children. Red dyes can be found in candy and many hot dogs as well. Monosodium glutamate, also found in hotdogs and other luncheon meats, is a another culprit which can simulate hyperactivity.

Many children have mild allergies to milk. They don't have acid reflux or break out in hives, but they will exhibit "hyperactive" behavior.

Sleep patterns, external stimuli such as video games, and emotional problems can mimic the disorder – to the detriment of the child and the educators. The over-prescription of Ritalin and similar drugs can lead to total avoidance on the part of alarmed parents, and those children who truly do need the drugs will suffer.

There should not be a ban on Ritalin, but there should be a more cautious approach. Parents, teachers, doctors – do your homework. Find the true source of the problem, find alternative therapies, find a way to help the children and save drugs as a last resort.