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Nearly everyone has heard of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and probably knows a child who has it. This isnít surprising since approximately six million children, or two per every classroom, are currently taking stimulants to modify behavior. It is also likely that many have been in heated debates about ADHD and medication. Are doctors too quick to prescribe medication? Are we replacing discipline with medication? Will medication change a childís personality? Are the pharmaceutical companies unfairly promoting the use of Ritalin and Adderall?

Medicating Kids is an emotionally hard-hitting piece of journalism that touches on all the questions listed above. FRONTLINE followed four families in Denver, Colorado, each one with a child diagnosed with ADHD, for one year. They received access to doctors, psychiatrists, teachers, family, and most importantly, the children. The program also takes a look at pharmaceutical companies who hire doctors to promote their products, and anti-medication groups who deny the existence of ADHD.

The portrait of Alex McCarty, a depressed child with suicidal tendencies, is particularly moving. Alex is an articulate 12-year old, and it is bewildering to learn that he worries over issues such as whether he will find a steady job when he grows up or wind up living in a dumpster. Antidepressants had been prescribed, but the problem escalated until he attempted suicide at school. Part of the difficulty with diagnosing ADHD is that it is often coupled with other disorders. This is true in Alexís case. He is one of the 18% of those whose ADHD is combined with depression. Once he began taking Adderall for ADHD, his depression lifted and his school performance improved. Alex, after years of frustration, began to feel good about what he could accomplish during a school day.

The story of 16-year old Robin Day is much less conclusive. He began to take Ritalin in the 4th grade, but the positive affects had faded two years later. He would switch to a number of other medications, quit taking them altogether, and be forced by a court, at his motherís urging, to resume his Adderall prescription. While the benefits of medication appear mixed in Robinís case, family instability seems to have exasperated the situation. This inadvertently brings up the question of how the stability of a family affects a child with ADHD, or, how a child with ADHD affects his family. In this particular case, the viewer simply lacks enough evidence to know. As the filming ends, Robinís mother, Barb, is moving out of the Day home. Even though Robin had been doing better, this seems to leave his future very much in doubt, and it is one of the more poignant moments in Medicating Kids.

FRONTLINE also takes a look at the advocate groups on both sides of the medication issue. Shire Richwood, the manufacture of Adderall, clearly has a stake in whether or not their stimulant is prescribed. The organization hires doctors like Bill Dodson to promote their product, and donates money to organizations like CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) to help raise ADHD awareness. On the other side of the aisle are the Church of Scientology and school board members like Denverís Patti Johnson. Both believe that children are being over medicated, perhaps for a non-existent disorder. Unfortunately, it is the parents, guardians, and the children who are caught in-between. They need answers and treatments, not political positions or the company line.

Medicating Kids is a penetrating examination that doesnít pretend to have all the answers. Two of the children followed in this film were clearly helped by medication; one family opted to spend more time with their child as opposed to medication; and one family took a mixed approach with mixed results. Even when medication does work, no one knows why. Still, any parent, teacher, or professional will gain a better understanding of all sides of this controversial issue from this program. FRONTLINE also gives ADHD a human face. Some doctors, teachers, and parents may be too quick to medicate children. Others, too slow. The issueófinallyóisnít really about pharmaceuticals, protesters, or even about whether or not to medicate. Instead, the issue centers on how to help individual children with ADHD function effectively and successfully in our society.

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.