NYT Pitches New Brain Disorder: "Executive Dysfunction"

NYT Pitches New Brain Disorder: “Executive Dysfunction”

Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Should the Science section of The New York Times be in the business of promoting the expanded use of psychotropic drugs for unproven non-medical conditions?

Today’s Science section of the New York Times includes 2 promotional articles that covertly promote psychostimulant drugs. The first masquerades as report about neuroscience, is a promotional piece about a speculative unproven “disorder” that is hypothesized as affecting “the brain’s C.E.O….the control center, really an array of executive functions..” Hence, this newly minted disorder is being dubbed “executive dysfunction.” The Times claims–without evidence–that “executive dysfunction is real, even if the term is sometimes used loosely.”

Christopher Murphy, an official of a school dealing with language-based learning disorders, acknowledges that “executive dysfunction has become the “disability du jour.” The term, he acknowledges is freely used like the once-popular “minimal brain dysfunction” or like ADHD.

The Times quotes well-known promoters of psychostimulant drugs for children with ADHD. The give away that this is PR copy pretending to be a science report is a pitch for treating “executive dysfunction” like ADHD– with drugs.

This is what passes for science reporting in the NY Times: “Neuropsychologists look for a treatable medical cause. They may include sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, thyroid disease, or mild stokes. As with ADHD stimulant medications may help.”

Science reporters who disseminate such propaganda should be ridiculed– and the editorial board should be put on notice for conflating promotional copy with “news that’s fit to print.” Is it ethical to promote increased uses for “addictive drugs of abuse?”

That’s what the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Steve Hyman, a molecular neurobiologist, called psychostimulant drugs: “addictive drugs of abuse.”

These drugs, Dr. Hyman wrote, cause “molecular and cellular changes in neural function that are produced as adaptations to chronic administration of addictive drugs such as psychostimulants.” Furthermore, he wrote, chronic exposure to psychotropic drugs “creates perturbations in neurotransmitter function that likely exceed the strength or time course of almost any natural stimulus.”

In other words, the drugs induce a disease process by interfering with normal brain function. They cause profound neural damage, and produce drug addiction–a disease.

See: Hyman, SE. and Nestler, EJ. 1996. Initiation and adaptation: a paradigm for understanding psychoactive drug action. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153:151-162. For further discussion of Hyman’s article and citations to numerous other scientific articles about psychotropic drug action on the central nervous system see, “Children in Clinical Research: A Conflict of Moral Values, AJOAB online at: http://mitpress.mit.edu/journals/AJOB/3/1/sharav.pdf

The second promotional article in the Science section is about Benjamin Polis, an Australian youth who is promoting his bestseller book about his experience with ADHD. His commercial website (cited by the Times) speaks for itself. http://www.addhelpguide.com/about.htm

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