According to Diane Fedorchak, director of the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS), only a small minority, perhaps five percent of the [student] body, legitimately suffer from ADHD.

Do you think five percent of the students at the University of Massachusetts have ADHD? Do you think five percent – over a thousand students – is a “small minority”? And do you think a syndrome so vaguely formulated that anyone who wants drugs for it can fake it and get them has a solid empirical basis?

An article in the U Mass paper says what we all know: Tons of perfectly normal students get the drugs at the drop of a hat from their doctors at home, or from psychiatrists on campus.

[One] student answered a series of questions such as, “Do you have a hard time concentrating or focusing?” …The student said… yes to questions she felt would ensure she’d be diagnosed with ADD, regardless of [her not] having experience[d] the symptoms repeatedly, if at all. “I basically ‘experienced’ as many symptoms as I thought it would take to convince the doctor I was ADD,” she said.

Her psychiatrist claimed the “test” revealed that the student had nine of the nine signs of ADD; zero of the nine signs of hyperactivity. Her examination lasted less than half an hour before the psychiatrist wrote her a prescription.

It’s not a brilliantly written article, but I like the way the writer puts “test” in quotation marks; and I like the way her use of “claimed” makes the psychiatrist sound exactly like the huckster he is.

Everybody’s all het up because a bunch of Columbia University students sell illegal drugs. Whoop dee doo. Happens on every campus. No one – except a few student journalists – notices that in many cases university and non-university psychiatrists are also pushers. That seems to me a much more significant, much more interesting, story.

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6 Responses to “It’s a funhouse world.”

  1. bfa Says:

    hooray for my alma mater!

    It was already pretty easy to manipulate the system ten years ago when I was there. I had a friend with a private dorm room because he had an “anxiety disorder”.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    bfa: None of this distinguishes your alma mater. They’re all like this.

    But no one riots after games the way U Mass does.

  3. Liz Ditz Says:

    Dear Margaret,

    I’m somewhat offended by the tone of your article.

    In my direct experience, ADHD (or struggles with attentional and executive function issues) is a real condition that causes real suffering for those affected. You might want to read ADHD International Consensus Statement (January 2002) at

    It will be a real advance when ADHD diagnosis moves from subjective reporting scales to a more objective method, but as Gualtieri and Thompson note, that day may be a long way off.

    I agree that there are probably corrupt physicians who will prescribe medications for trivial or non-existent problems. All systems can be gamed. That does not mean all people with an ADHD diagnosis are gaming the system.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Liz: ADHD, because of its peculiarly vague basis and the attractiveness of some of the drugs to treat it, has become the poster boy for corrupt over-prescription and incorrect prescription of strong, dangerous drugs. It’s simply inadequate to describe the situation as you do — There are “probably corrupt physicians… All systems can be gamed.” This particular drug delivery system is thoroughly compromised, as the first comment on my post suggests.

    I do not believe, nor did I state in the post, that people actually suffering from ADHD game the system. They don’t. But the system – for the reasons I’ve stated – is gamed by millions of people.

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