Medicating Austerity and Biopower

I read the article “Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School” this morning in the NY Times and it freaked me out. Then, the article was sent around on my department’s listserve and I just can’t get over it. A pediatrician in a suburb of Atlanta gives his “disadvantaged” or “low income” patients Aderall (a.k.a. speed), a powerful stimulant that in constant dosage makes kids less hyper. (You know, because they’re kids and therefore shouldn’t be hyper.) Justification for the widening use of the psychotropic drugs for “low income” children is failing elementary schools. The prescription-happy doctor featured in the story explains, “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” Obviously, what government can afford such extravagant luxuries like after-school programs, counseling, tutoring, and decent pay for teachers these days? Nothing a little speed can’t help!

So poor people’s elementary schools in poor school districts are under-funded and thus “failing.” Public funding these days is of course rationed according to standardized metrics that poor schools and struggling parents are forced to “improve” by drugging their kids. Public education, say hello to my little friend, “biopower.” The deafening long beep you hear is the sound of their imaginations and hyper, curious wonder flat-lining—just look at the dead look in the kids eyes in the article’s lead photo. “C’mon, just fill in the right bubble, Johnny!”

And it gets worse: Adderal made the boy in the picture, whose real name is Quintn, hear voices (“a rare but known side effect,” says the Times). He even became suicidal so Dr. Anderson sent him to a psychiatric hospital for a week. Afterwards, Dr. Anderson through it was better to downgrade him to the antipsychotic (!) Risperdal.

So now our children’s little bodies have become test-tubes for capitalist socio-biological engineering for an age of austerity. I had to read the article twice just to make sure I had gotten it right.  But, of course, to counteract the speed and pharma-induced ultra-attention produced by these drugs you obviously need other drugs:

On the Rocafort family’s kitchen shelf … next to the peanut butter and chicken broth, sits a wire basket brimming with bottles of the children’s medications, prescribed by Dr. Anderson: Adderall for Alexis, 12; and Ethan, 9; Risperdal (an antipsychotic for mood stabilization) for Quintn and Perry, both 11; and Clonidine (a sleep aid to counteract the other medications) for all four, taken nightly.

Nothing like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a little Rispersal and Adderall. National school lunch program anyone? We’re doomed.

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