Using ADHD drugs to control 'non-compliant' pupils is 'inhumane', say experts

Teachers should monitor the use of medication like Ritalin as part of their safeguarding duties, says British Psychological Society

Adi Bloom

Drugs education has evolved over the past few decades to focus more on pupil choices and consequences

The use of ADHD drugs like Ritalin to control "non-compliant" pupils is “politically totalitarian, physiologically inhumane” and reminiscent of Stalin’s Russia, leading educational psychologists have said.

They add that such treatment should be considered the safeguarding responsibility of all professionals involved in the affected child’s care – including teachers.

The British Psychological Society’s division of educational and child psychology has produced a paper outlining its position on the use of drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The paper states: “If we had read…that children in Stalin’s schools…were being forced to take mind-drugs that made them compliant in school, we might have been indignantly outraged, morbidly fascinated but unsurprised.

“If the only symptom of a child’s ADHD is their non-compliant and irritating behaviour, then control and compliance at home and in school achieved using drugs might also appear politically totalitarian, physiologically inhumane, a serious safeguarding issue, and in contravention of basic human rights and freedoms enshrined in international law at this time.”

'Ethically unacceptable'

The paper argues that there are no valid measures or baselines for hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention.

The educational psychologists therefore say that they are deeply concerned about the diagnosis and treatment with psychotropic medication of young children. They say that no child under the age of six should be prescribed drugs such as Ritalin.

And older children should only be given these drugs if they have provided informed consent to the treatment, they add.

“Such treatment must be considered a primary safeguarding responsibility of all involved professionals,” they state.

In addition, they argue that the use of such medication to control pupils’ behaviour, when that behaviour is not causing the affected pupils any distress, would be an infringement of their human rights.

“Put plainly, using…psychotropic medication to coerce, control or manage a child or young person’s behaviour, just because they were uncompliant with institutional rules or an adult’s instruction would be ethically unacceptable,” they say.

'Pernicious side effect'

They argue that there is a “subtle but pernicious educational and psychosocial side-effect” of medicating children for ADHD: it implicitly teaches them that “their behaviour problems are beyond their responsibility and agency, and only drugs can help them”.

They therefore conclude that there are immediate and long-term risks from such medication. “Medication should be a last resort, after psychological and educational interventions have been properly tried,” they state.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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