By Adam Piore, Newsweek, March 2, 2020
In the mid-2000s, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris opened a children's medical clinic in the Bayview section of San Francisco, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. She quickly began to suspect something was making many of her young patients sick.
She noticed the first clues in the unusually large population of kids referred to her clinic for symptoms associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—an inability to focus, impulsivity, extreme restlessness. Burke Harris was struck not just by the sheer number of ADHD referrals, but also by how many of the patients had additional health problems. One child arrived in her clinic with eczema and asthma and was in the 50th percentile of height for a 4-year-old. He was 7. There were kindergarteners with hair falling out, two children with extremely rare cases of autoimmune hepatitis, middle-school kids stricken with depression and an epidemic number of kids with behavioral problems and asthma.
Burke Harris noticed something else unusual about these children. Whenever she asked their parents or caregivers to tell her about conditions at home, she almost invariably uncovered a major life disruption or trauma. One child had been sexually abused by a tenant, she recalls. Another had witnessed an attempted murder. Many children came from homes struggling with the incarceration or death of a parent, or reported acrimonious divorces. Some caregivers denied there were any problems at all, but had arrived at the appointment high on drugs.