According to a recent statement reported by the Washington Post, Curt Furbrain — I’m sorry, I think that might actually be Furberg — is advocating for warning labels on ADHD drugs, stating, “I am sure there are patients who need these drugs, but it is not 10 percent of all 10-year-old boys.”
Either the Washington Post is leaving out significant chunks of its stories, or there is no basis for making this comment. Imagine someone saying, “I’m sure there are patients who need diabetes medication, but it is not 10 percent of all 65-and-older adults.” (Hint: It’s actually 22 percent.)
The claim is that ADHD drugs can cause heart attacks. If true, maybe we do need some kind of warning on ADHD drugs. I don’t know. But what I do know is that 1) there is no basis for the statement Furbrain made and 2) given the choice of suffering from ADHD all your life, or possibly having a heart attack if you are treated with medications, a large number of people I know with ADHD would probably risk the heart attack. I know I would.
Even more interesting, though, is that the Washington Post article says nothing — yep, that’s right, nothing — about either the percentage, or the actual number, of people who will have heart attacks because of drugs like Ritalin. In fact, there’s no indication whatsoever in this article that anyone, particularly not any 10-year-old boys, has suffered a heart attack after taking ADHD drugs.
And while I don’t necessarily think pharmaceutical companies are bastions of honesty and openness, the makers of Ritalin are quoted in the article as stating that they “saw no more evidence of a higher rate of heart problems in people taking its drug.” Almost nine million prescriptions for another ADHD drug, Adderalll, were written last year; yet, again, there is no mention of the number of heart attacks, if any.
Instead, the article merely notes that the number of prescriptions for adults is on the rise.
Sometime after the mid-1930s, the number of people taking Prontosil — essentially the first “sulfa drug” to combat bacterial infections — began to rise dramatically. (I won’t say “number of prescriptions for adults began to rise,” because my recollection is that Prontosil didn’t require a prescription when it first came out, but I could be wrong.) Nevertheless, the number of people who survived bacterials infections after the invention of Prontosil was rather dramatic. Although there were possibly people who died from allergic reactions to the drug, or other side effects, the number of people who survived wound infections (or just armpit boils) was astronomical after the discovery of antibacterial drugs. (Okay, the armpit boil is cheating, because that was 1871, and a carbolic substance, rather than sulfa, was used. — it was still antibacterial and a new discovery which resulted in less people dying from “simple” things like armpit boils.)
Like I said, it may very well be that there is some scientific basis for requiring warning labels on ADHD drugs. My complaint here isn’t about that question per se.
What I’m complaining about is the state of reasoning today. Why in the world do we accept statements like “the number of prescriptions for X is on the rise” as proof that warning labels should be required for X?
The real problem is this: The number of government agencies recommending more control over the lives and choices of citizens is on the rise — I think we all political appointees should come with a warning: “May be hazardous to the exercise of rational thought.”