Can Adderall Fix Bad Schools?

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Here's a modest proposal: Let's dose up kids stuck in low-income schools with Adderall, even if they don't have A.D.H.D, to compensate for the advantages enjoyed by kids in richer schools. That's what Dr. Michael Anderson, an Atlanta pediatrician who calls himself a "social justice thinker" has started doing, reports The New York Times's Alan Schwartz. "I don’t have a whole lot of choice," Dr. Anderson told Schwartz. "We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid," he said. Schwartz notes that he isn't sure if Anderson is part of a "wider trend," but cites "some experts" who say the drug is being used in low-income elementary schools on kids whose parents want them to have better performance. And from the sounds of it, Schwartz isn't alone. "We as a society have been unwilling to invest in very effective nonpharmaceutical interventions for these children and their families," Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a child mental-health services researcher at Washington University in St. Louis told Schwartz. "We are effectively forcing local community psychiatrists to use the only tool at their disposal, which is psychotropic medications."

Anderson says he is just "evening the scales a little bit." Of course lots of kids in rich education environments use these kinds of study drugs to get ahead, a trend The New Yorker's Margaret Talbot explained in a 2009 article. So why not take that tactic and apply it to students who have fewer resources? Well, there is the possibility of addiction, for one, as Schwartz explains:

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies these medications as Schedule II Controlled Substances because they are particularly addictive. Long-term effects of extended use are not well understood, said many medical experts. Some of them worry that children can become dependent on the medication well into adulthood, long after any A.D.H.D. symptoms can dissipate.

There are other safer ways to deal with this than prescribing drugs for a disorder kids don't have, like change in diet for one. And then, there is the fact that this doesn't really fix the education system, providing more of a prescription strength band-aid for some kids. But, Anderson doesn't think that's his problem. "I am looking to the individual person and where they are right now. I am the doctor for the patient, not for society."

Image via Shutterstock by Julia Ivantsova

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.