ADHD Nation Alan Schwarz Scribner/ Simon & Schuster £14.99
In one of the strangest events in modern history, on December 5 last year, TV crews were allowed to swarm into the California flat belonging to two newly dead mass killers, Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik.
Two days before, the couple had murdered 14 people and wounded 22 others at an office Christmas party.
The FBI had been through the apartment like a whirlwind, but had left much behind. One reporter examined the kitchen counter and noted ‘Along with orange juice and paratha bread were bottles of Adderall and Xanax’.
This was an amazing, puzzling discovery. Xanax is a widely misused tranquilliser. But Adderall is America’s equivalent of Ritalin, the drug prescribed to millions of suburban children, who are said to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What was it doing in the kitchen of two dead mass-murderers, whose only child was six months old?
Well may you ask. Somebody ought to. But having done so, you might go on to ask why powerful drugs of this kind, with severe known side effects, are prescribed to six per cent of children in the US, and about one per cent of British children.
This is done on the basis of a vague subjective checklist. There has never been a valid objective test for ADHD.
Adderall is an actual amphetamine. Ritalin is so similar to it that it is hard to come up with a significant difference. Both drugs have a considerable black market, and Adderall is sometimes even snorted like cocaine by illegal users.
In this country, amphetamines are illegal without a prescription. Illegal possession can in theory get you seven years in prison. Japan and South Korea ban them completely, even in medical use.
The world first came to know them during the Second World War as Benzedrine, a drug so good at deadening the feelings, fending off sleep and making dull, unpleasant tasks bearable that millions began to take it habitually.
James Bond uses it in Moonraker where he mixes it with champagne to stay alert – and swears afterwards: ‘Never again!’
Users found it had many nasty side effects from grinding teeth and loss of appetite to delusions and paranoia. Nobody ever imagined it would be used to make fidgety boys sit still in dull classrooms, as it now is.
Yet we readily give such substances to children as young as two. Ten thousand toddlers were recently found to be on such drugs across the US.
This figure is one of many in Alan Schwarz’s often devastating and very necessary book – an account of the growth of the ADHD business.
I am a long-term critic of the ADHD industry but Mr Schwarz, and many of his key sources and informants – especially ADHD pioneer Keith Conners – are actually supporters.
However, they are increasingly scared that they have created a monster.
I beg you to read this candid, fact-packed and even-handed study, and see for yourselves.