TODAY   |  February 03, 2012

Are we overmedicating for ADHD?

NBC News chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman discusses a recent article in The New York Times that set off a heated debate about the causes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and whether the risks of Ritalin outweigh the benefits.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a recent op-ed in the new york times set off a debate over the causes of the disorder and whether children are overmedicated. here's nbc's chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman .

>> he was all over the classroom during circle time . he used to spin on his knees. he used to roll around on the floor.

>> reporter: at age 6 nancy and david's son brendan was diagnosed with adhd . he's been taking a modified version of ritalin almost daily for the past ten months.

>> it's like night and day . he can't interact with his peers as well when he's not medicated. he can't listen to instructions.

>> reporter: in a recent new york times op-ed psychologist alan sroufe questioned whether ritalin and adderall are over prescribed.

>> i'm not saying no child should be on medication. i'm saying i am entirely skeptical that the 3 million children currently on medication should be.

>> reporter: sroufe suggests family stresses play a role in behavior issues. he writes, for example, a 6-month-old baby is playing and the parent picks it up quickly from behind and plunges it in the bath. such practices excessively stimulate and also compromise the child's developing capacity for self-regulation.

>> i think the trouble with that article is the fact that it continues a heritage we have in this country of blame and shame. to suggest that if they didn't pick up their baby correctly at 6 months old that somehow that could cause a brain disorder that would require the child to take medicine. psychiatric illness is different than that.

>> the idea that adhd is an in-born brain disease and the only way to help is with medication. all scientists know genes and environment interact.

>> reporter: brendan's parents disagree and feel genetics played a primary role in their son's adhd .

>> it's not bad parenting. i'm sure there are kids that are badly behaved because their parents are bad parents. that doesn't mean badly behaved kids are adhd .

>> good morning.

>> hey, matt.

>> imagine you're a parent being told when you read this that perhaps it's something you did that brought this adhd on.

>> i'm one of those parents and the maternal guilt of what did i eat wrong, was delivery too fast, what did i do wrong parenting? there is a lot of self-doubt when you raise children that don't fit into societal norms. when you have a child who can't sit in circle time and will walk around the class, that's seen as bad behavior. it means the blaine wiring is different. what you see in this piece is psychology versus psychiatry and the battle over what it means.

>> and the battle over medication . we have one person saying children are severely overmedicated. on the other hand, you have parents saying, this medication has changed my child's life.

>> both true. we probably are overmedicating some kids. but the reality is the pharmaceutical industry whether you like or loathe them saw an unmet need for neurotrans mitters. there are children for whom schools and society weren't adapting. we talked to parents who have children who have been medicated and are doing in better in school who say this has changed my child's life. what have we talked about over the years? you just want your kid in the middle of the pack. you don't want the brainiest but you don't want the last one on the bus. s sfm.

>> do we understand the potential side effects of the medications?

>> we don't know long-term side effects because the drugs are new. people say, what's the safety, 20, 30 years out? we don't know. we have to do post market surveillance. yeah, there are concerns. in the meantime you want your kid to get through high school , be socially aware and go on to have a decent career.

>> thank you very much.