Connecting dots of drug abuse
The missing link that enables a multitude of state officials, physicians, psychologists, educators and pharmaceutical profiteers to maintain and generate ever-increasing drug use and abuse in Vermont is a lack of accountability. And until the media in all its forms start doing their homework, the shocking facts will not be connected.
According to federal authorities, Vermont ranks second only to New Hampshire, in the rate of Ritalin prescription. How shocking, but hardly surprising, to read in Vermont papers that "Vermont is among the worst states for illegal drug abuse." Astounding surprise. New Hampshire again ranks first.
Not only that, the rate of increase of Vermont's prison population led the nation in 2002 and 2003. Amazing. What will it take for responsible people to start making the connection between essentially (if not actually) mandatory drugging of very young children, ostensibly so they can learn, and the subsequent "abuse" by the same children, very few years later? If, for instance, a child is conditioned to believe that without his Ritalin, or related drug, he cannot succeed, are we surprised to learn that not only is the drug necessary, so to speak, but can be highly pleasurable?
A classic example is the interview with Gov. James Douglas last year having to do with his "targeting illicit drug trade in Vermont prisons." The article contained one brief paragraph "having to do with the 75 percent of inmates in the Newport prison, who on a daily basis, line up for their prescribed meds." Unbelievable? Consider the reality that a statistically significant percentage of Vermont inmates are incarcerated for an offense that was committed while under the influence of drugs. Obviously, drugging prisoners makes them more manageable, in precisely the same manner that education-drugging of children makes them more manageable.
Where the connections do not get made is evident in the almost total failure rate, educationally, of incarcerated prisoners, who previously were very specially educated, from their earliest school years. However, it may or may not be reassuring to learn that upon release from Vermont prisons, a one-week supply of prescribed drugs are provided, the success of which is on par with the Ritalin provided in conditioning very young children to learn that they absolutely must be on meds in order to pay attention.
Another way of looking at the situation might be to ascertain the percentage of Vermont children in special education programs who have not been on Ritalin or related drugs. And why are 90 percent of 17-22 age Vermont prisoners functionally illiterate, upon imprisonment? And how is it that most prisoners are male?
We seem incapable of making the connection between rates of maturity between boys and girls and readiness for reading. But it is as impossible to teach a child to read as it is to teach a child to walk, neurologically, before they are ready. However, as CIBA Pharmaceutical Corp. long ago discovered in becoming a primary sponsor financially of CHADD, a national organization for children of attention deficit, there is great profit to be had from "inability to pay attention," whether mature enough to or not. And CHADD was the prolific and first marketer of Ritalin. Surprise again.
Continuing the roster of surprises is the matter of prescription writing for education. How is it possible that hundreds of Vermont physicians received their education at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and did much of their studying at Dana Medical Library under conditions absolutely free of distraction? Noise and visual distraction are totally prohibited. Only a lack of visits by doctors to the "learning environments" of Vermont elementary schools enables them not to make connections.
The typical Vermont special education classroom is a classic example of noise distraction and a lack of serenity, within which our prescribing doctors would never have gotten into, let alone out of, medical school. Then there is the typical physician advice to parents regarding education drugs: that your child does not need to be medicated during the summer. I wonder why. If it is possible for a child to learn and thrive out of school, why is it not possible for the child to learn and thrive in school?
Prior to becoming a psychologist 40 years ago, I taught special education in several places, covering ages 5 through 18, and virtually all disabilities, including a three-year stint at a crippled children's school. My classrooms, during study time, were much like Dana Medical, quiet and free of distraction. Serenity was helped by fish tanks and by experienced success. And provision was scheduled frequently for release of energy. Proper diet was emphasized. Today, when children are declared deficient, given personal aides, and enormously expensive educations, the soda machines are heavily used in the public school corridors, and food laden with sweets and other uppers appear heavily on school menus. Some connection. It's akin to the failure rate on our streets and in our prisons.
In our lack of awareness, and our need to punish or profit, it would be well if we Vermonters were aware that several states already have passed legislation to the effect that school administrators must inform parents that they do not have to have their child on Ritalin or related drugs. Connecticut was the first state to make such a law. And speaking of blocked connections, consideration of such a law has been stuffed in committee for the past three legislative sessions, House and Senate.
It would appear we have such a problem fighting crime we simply do not have time or money to consider where much of it originates. For Vermont to rank at the very peak, or just second, in rate of Ritalin prescription, drug abuse (illegal), rate of increase in prison population, and perish the thought, recidivism, should raise demands for accountability, unless of course we can afford to live in oblivious isolation.
Overwhelmingly, our failures are as predictable as they are avoidable, but such will not occur without an energized media who make connections and demand accountability.
J. David Egner is a psychologist with a practice in Rutland.