Linda Graham

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Australia’s first forum of psychiatrists, psychologists, educators, academics, researchers, politicians and other professions concerned about the large and growing number of children diagnosed with ‘ADHD’ and treated with drugs is being convened in Brisbane (7-8 February) by the Youth Affairs Network of Queensland (YANQ).

Opinions as to the validity of ‘ADHD’ as a psychiatric disorder vary among the invited participants. Some consider that ‘ADHD’ is a real but rare condition that is mis-diagnosed and over-medicated; others consider ‘ADHD’ a fraud.

However, all participants agree that unnecessarily administering powerful psychotropic drugs to children is a violation of their rights and often results in serious short and long term harm.

Participants are also concerned that:

  1. The criteria used to diagnose ‘ADHD’ are all subjectively assessed behaviours and these behaviours, losing things, forgetting, fidgeting, butting in, disliking homework, and playing loudly etc are a ‘normal’ part of childhood.
  2. There is nothing ‘ADHD specific’ about the effects of drugs used to treat the ‘disorder’. Although responses vary, most people become temporarily more narrowly focussed and compliant on low dose amphetamines.
  3. Drugs do nothing in the long term to address the many and varied causes of ‘ADHD’ type behaviours’.
  4. On occasions drugs mask the symptoms of serious conditions (such as abuse or trauma).
  5. ‘ADHD’ drugs have well established significant short term risks including cardiovascular and psychiatric problems.
  6. ‘ADHD’ stimulants are amphetamines or amphetamine like drugs that are frequently diverted for illicit use.
  7. We know little about the long-term effects of ADHD drugs on growing brains. The limited data that exists indicates their long term use provides no long term benefit but may pose significant risks.

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One year on from the release of the corrupted National ADHD Guidelines – The Gillard Government continues to turn a blind eye to drug company influence, ignore NHMRC advice, and expose Australian Children to unnecessary ADHD drugging.

The continuing refusal of Gillard Government Health Minister Nicola Roxon to abandon flawed and compromised draft national ADHD guidelines is risking the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands of Australian children. It is now over a year since Federal Government Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, rejected advice from the NHMRC to abandon the draft guidelines because of concerns about undue influence by ADHD pharmaceutical manufacturers.

In 2007 when opposition health spokesperson, Nicola Roxon expressed concern about the potential for undue pharmaceutical company influence on these ‘incredibly important’ guidelines. However, upon becoming the Health Minister Nicola Roxon refused calls to abandon the controversial guidelines process and appoint a replacement ‘conflict of interest free’ committee.

Throughout 2009 Health Minister Roxon came under pressure from both sides of the ADHD debate. ADHD critics concerned about the potential of the draft national ADHD guidelines to further accelerate the growth in child prescribing rates lobbied Roxon to abandon the draft guidelines and seek advice from psychiatrists without ties to the pharmaceutical industry. ADHD industry insiders, including members of the committee who drafted the guidelines, wanted them released.

In October 2009 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) effectively offered Roxon an ideal circuit breaker. They announced that because of an investigation involving undisclosed drug company payments to US researcher Dr Joseph Biederman, who was cited 82 times in the draft guidelines, the guidelines had not been approved. The NHMRC issued a press release stating that ‘if the US investigation remains unresolved by mid-2010, NHMRC will move to redevelop the draft guidelines’.[1. NHMRC, ‘Draft Australian Guidelines on ADHD – NHMRC consideration deferred pending outcome of USA investigation’, NHMRC Noticeboard 2009. Available at (accessed  3 December 2010)]

Surprisingly Minister Roxon rejected this opportunity to defuse the issue and in December 2009 pressured the NHMRC to release the guidelines. The public and the medical profession were left with the mixed message that according to the NHMRC the guidelines were draft and subject to withdrawal, but that Roxon was pleased they finally offered ‘more up-to-date information on ways to identify and care for those in our community who may be suffering from ADHD.’[2. Renee Viellaris, ‘Medication not first option to beat ADHD’, Courier-Mail, 1 December 2009.]

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