It’s been twenty years since a concerted effort, and some would say push, has been on to have children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the numbers prove the push translated into big dollars for Big Pharma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the number of students on medication has spiked from 600,000 in 1990 to 3.5 million today. Is it a real epidemic or just an epidemic of greed to justify medicating American children?

Courtesy of Alfie.

Different formulations of methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin.

The New York Times quotes Dr. Keith Conners, an ADHD specialist. Addressing a group of professionals recently he called the rising rates “a national disaster of dangerous proportions.” He couldn’t say it more clearly, “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

He is referring to the two-decade-old push by pharmaceutical companies to diagnose ADHD and to promote the use of stimulant drugs to treat children. The promotion had been directed toward parents and educators, doctors and school counselors, driving stimulant sales to an excess of $8 billion a year.

The diagnosis now narrowly trails asthma as the second most frequent childhood ailment. The Times article says about 5% of children may actually be unable to concentrate but the advertising in popular magazines has attributed everything from poor grades to impatience as a reason to seek medical treatment. The implication is you may not be a good parent if you don’t seek medication. Even a comic book authored by drugmaker Shire, maker of Adderall, has been produced to sell directly to children by saying “medicines may make it easier to pay attention and control your behavior!”

Let’s not forget the doctors who love stimulants and the companies who love these doctors. Paid for giving talks to other doctors and to conduct research, some of the names include Dr. William W. Dodson, a psychiatrist from Denver, who reportedly received more than $45,000 in speaking fees from Big Pharma in 2010 and 2011 (according to the nonprofit news group, ProPublica), and Dr. Joseph Biederman, a psychiatrist from Harvard University who received $1.6 million in speaking and consulting fees from Big Pharma, not all of which he declared to Harvard. Needless to say these are the biggest cheerleaders for stimulant medication use by children and they both deny any conflict-of-interest has helped form their opinion.

Regarding ADHD medication, Dr. Biederman has been quoted as saying “Don’t leave home without it.”

Some of the major stimulants are Ritalin, Adderall, Focalin, Concerta and Vyvanse as well as non-stimulant drugs such as Strattera and Intuniv. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cited every manufacturer for overreaching advertising over the past decade.

When quoted by the Times, the inventor of Adderall in 1995, Roger Griggs, called the stimulants “nuclear bombs,” warranted in extreme cases only, and only under a medical watch. That is hardly what is happening today.

Meanwhile there is virtually no information on the risks associated with the long-term use of stimulants, especially on children.

What we do know is that heart problems, psychotic behavior, insomnia, mood swings, hallucinations and aggression have occurred among patients prescribed the pills. What we also know is expect to see more advertisements directed at adults with the suggestion that, like your child, ADHD runs in families.