Pretty scary. Maybe I was just oblivious when I was a kid, but I never really knew about any kids taking medication like this "way back then". It seems like a relatively recent occurrence (recent meaning in the last 15 years or so).
I'm not a doctor, medical professional of any stripe, etc., but I'd have to agree that "big pharma" is at least partially responsible for this. There are people with real mental illnesses who get benefits from these drugs - but it seems like there's always a gray area where a doctor should have to make a decision "is the drug necessary, or will other options work?" Big Pharma has everything to gain from pushing this line towards "just take a pill" - and spends a ton of money on advertising, etc. (a LOT more than they spend on research, if you believe the reports).
I noticed this when I went to my doctor a while ago - I have trouble sleeping, and decided that it was time to see if anything was wrong. His response? "Take this for a week." I asked him what it was and what it did. He refused to tell me, saying only "it knocks you out." It didn't do a thing. His response? "Oh, take this instead." Didn't help either. I was pretty frustrated by this series of events, so I asked a friend (who is a doctor) if this was typical. His response was surprising but illuminating... he said that's what almost everyone wants. A quick "just take this pill and the problem will go away" is what people are looking for.
I think it's a problem in society in general - uncontrolled short term thinking. Doing whatever's easiest to get the desired symptomatic result as soon as possible, rather than trying to address the core issue. Tie this in with an overemphasis on "being good in school" leading to a successful life, and I can see worried parents (who may be just getting reports from overstressed school personnel) being swayed to thinking that their kids need help - even if they're really just bored/antagonized/belittled by their environment.
End result? Some things take long-term effort and dedication by society in general, and aren't amenable to endless penny-pinching to do right. I'd propose that educating kids is one of these things. I'm about to go on a whole new rant, so I'll wrap it up :P.
In short... I think that these drugs are a good thing... but that they're heavily overused in an effort to twist kids into pliable little cogs - when said proto-cog is really just struggling to avoid that tedious and boring fate.
and for Whatever's Mom and Dad