26 March 2013

Abuse of AD/HD Medication: Sensational News vs. Important Information

The following post began as an email message about an article published in the New York Times the first weekend of February. Apparently, I saved the message draft, but forgot to finish and send it. Upon finding it this afternoon, I thought the content more appropriate as a blog post, and I have edited it accordingly.

Schwarz, Alan. “Drown in a Stream of Prescriptions.New York Times. February 3, 2013.

As someone who takes stimulant medication for AD/HD, I am ambivalent about this kind of media attention. Each person reads such an article with preexistent bias. For some it reinforces the belief that these medications are dangerous. For others it serves as evidence of fear-mongering and the stigmatization of mental ill-health by news media.

Here the subject is the abuse of stimulant medications prescribed for AD/HD, or perhaps, more broadly, the responsibility of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals for the health and safety of those in their care. However, regardless of the topic, so long as it is contentious, the same pattern ensues.

Each side selects a few facts to justify its position and to defend against the opposition. These selections have little to do with the information's relevance to the wider population. The driving question is “Will people react to this information with emotion?” As a result, the information chosen tends to concern only a few specific individuals. Information lacking sufficient emotional “punch,” even if relevant to far more people, goes unmentioned.

The rift between sides grows larger. Meaningful conversations about the issue become less common. The information that is useful and relevant to the most people gets the least circulation.