Like Giving Candy To A Baby: Chewable Amphetamines for the Unfocused Generation

The first chewable and fruity flavored amphetamine has just hit the market to meet the rising rates of childhood ADHD.

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Amphetamine for Every Boy and Girl

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “back to school?”

For me, I see a diverse cast of dance prodigies getting down on a Target commercial with cool back packs and fresh pairs of kicks.

But for Vipin Garg, the CEO of Neos Therapeutics, back to school season means preparing the launch of his company’s new chewable amphetamine for kids.

After being approved by the FDA in January 2016, the new drug Adzenys has been met with a great deal of controversy for its kid friendly design. Despite public outcry, the company's CEO was confident that he had plenty of young customers lined up to "get ahead of back to school season."

Based out of Dallas, Neos pharmaceuticals created the chewable and fruity flavored amphetamine for patients as young as 6 years old.

At age 6, a child is just gaining understanding of cause and effect

Do you remember what it was like to have the brain of a six year old?

Of course you don't, but try to understand a kid's perspective for a moment.

According to psychologists, at age 6 a child is just

  • learning to tell time
  • learning simple words, sentences, and texts
  • gaining an understanding of the cause and effect that their actions have

According to the Neuropsychology Review, this stage of brain development is considered the “blossoming” phase, because a kid goes through a drastic period of growth in their cognitive and physical abilities. It's that moment when a human goes from being a toddler with their arms wrapped around mom's leg to a little person with their own personality, thoughts, and cravings for independence.

There's a reason that kids around this age can't stop screaming for joy on the playground. It's crazy exciting to be a kid. When you're brain can suddenly understand so much of the world that it's never been able to, it's like seeing the world for the first time. So it's not surprising that kids don't want to sit still and would rather switch from playing in the woods, to watching TV, to playing dress up, all in a matter of minutes. 

It's all new, so it's all exciting. 

This is why it's so hard to tell when a kid is just being a kid or when there is some sort of "distraction or focus issue" that needs to be addressed.

There was once a time when the fidgeting, horse play, and lack of focus in a child was considered normal behavior. However in the past 30 years, many physicians have decided that it's actually a disorder. A disorder that requires diagnosis, treatment, and even prescription pills to fix. By far the most popular diagnosis for kids who are too distracted is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. In 2011, 11% of 4-17 year olds (6.4 million) had received a diagnosis for ADHD. As the number of cases in young people have sky rocketed, drug companies have changed production and design to cater to the growing market of "unfocused" children.

Since the beginning of this ADHD diagnosis trend in the 90's, children as young as 2 years old have been prescribed amphetamines to combat distraction, but it took Adzenys, an amphetamine that actually looks like a normal part of a child's diet, for the public to see how far this hard to swallow phenomenon has come.

A child's brain is like an unmolded ball of clay at this stage.

A Real Diagnosis/ A Dangerous Treatment

While many point to an unsettling rise of diagnosis in recent years, there’s still a very real mental challenge that makes the academic and social life of some children extremely difficult. Some in the medical establishment argue that ADHD should not be met with ridicule just because a child is involved.

While it may seem that every aspect of human life is being given a diagnosis, this is simply false. Surveys of large populations of people in the United States continue to show that about 5 to 8 percent of children meet criteria for a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. This is hardly evidence that everyone is being diagnosed with this disorder. -Dr. Russell A. Barkley

Let's be clear: The question here isn’t the legitimacy of childhood ADHD. It's how many kids actually require the diagnosis. And if a child does fall under the umbrella of ADHD, do they receive treatment that’s sensitive to their precious stage of development? 

Sadly, it appears they aren't.

According to the CDC, when a child is diagnosed with ADHD, before they receive any pharmaceutical intervention, they should first undergo behavioral therapy to work on their social and academic skills. One of the greatest concerns in prescribing young people meds over therapy, is that doctors are not certain about the long terms affects of amphetamine on young people. Despite this worry, about 70% of children diagnosed with ADHD receive medication, while half or less ever get the benefits of behavioral therapy sessions. 

‍http://www.help4adhd.org/Portals/0/Content/CHADD/NRC/Websites2/statistics1.jpg

Something is very wrong when the body of scientific and medical data founded to protect a child's future is blatantly ignored. But it all makes sense with one glance at the insane numbers being put up by the pharmaceutical industry. ADHD medications have increased their profit’s from $4.7 billion in 2006 to $12.7 billion in 2015, according to a report from market research firm, IBISWorld. According to their projections, profits will hover around 17.5 billion by 2020.

Don’t forget these numbers because they aren’t just profit margins; they reflect the dispersal of prescription pills into elementary schools all across America. Sure, the companies producing the drugs are providing a medication, but they’re also pushing a product. And as a business, the goal is to get your product into the hands of as many customers as possible, even if it means expanding your market into the playground. Or does it?

It Isn’t Just for Kids

It isn’t just children that the industry is targeting. Adult ADHD diagnosis has seen a massive rise in recent years. According to the DEA, ADHD medication is prescribed at 30 times the rate it was just 20 years ago. As prescriptions for amphetamine have increased, so too has its availability as a recreational street drug. Emergency room visits from symptoms caused by Adderrall overdose increased from 862 in 2006 to nearly 1,500 in 2011.

Prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.

The same report illustrates an extremely overmedicated America in which there is

enough legal amphetamine in the country to keep the entire US population awake for a solid month.”

While the over-diagnosing of any group is troubling, when it happens to children we should all stand up to speak out. An adult has the ability to reason and wager the pros and cons of taking a medication as potent as amphetamine. At six years old, a child does not. Some experts in the field are extremely troubled by the trend and not at all surprised after considering the major players responsible for the spread of these drugs.

“An orally disintegrating amphetamine for kids, by the morally disintegrating FDA. What’s next? Gummy Bears?”-Dr. Alexander Papp, adult psychiatrist UC San Diego
Parents are often caught in a storm of mixed messages from physicians and proponents of amphetamine.

Abuse of power trickles down. A child puts all of their faith into their parents and parents put all of their faith into the doctor responsible for treating their child. But if this doctor has been compromised by the financial incentives of the pharmaceutical industry, then they aren't going to be able to resist prescribing the majority of their patients a medication- even when it's in direct opposition to CDC guidelines. And just like that, corruption is passed down from the top of the pharmaceutical industry down to the naive brains of children all across the country.

While we cannot be positive about the moral fiber of the institution responsible for controlling prescription pills, we can make sure to strengthen our own.

What our kids need is engagement from their community and a commitment to monitoring their progress. They need to be mentored on an academic and development level throughout their entire educational career. And they need us to act as their watch dogs, as long as they're within a system that doesn't always have their best interests at heart.