Kids on Drugs

April 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s become a sad fact of life in our modern world that depression affects not just adults but youth. Many youth also have problems with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) which poses problems for concentration or acting out impulses.

While we’ve moved well away from a view that hyperactive behavior is not just an inevitable by-product of youth or an outcome of poor parenting but an actual dysfunction, there remains controversy over how to best treat ADHD and other mental and behavioral problems in our youngest population.

Increasingly, and sometimes exclusively, children are being prescribed medications to combat mental or behavioral disorders. Studies suggest that as many as a couple of million youths are on some kind of behavioral medication. Perhaps as many as a fifth of American children could suffer from some sort of mental or behavioral problem. Some of these patients are now under the age of 2.

I don’t mean to suggest that ADHD, depression, or other types of mental health problems can’t appear in youth or that medications shouldn’t be prescribed for them. I do believe however that other types of complementary approaches are needed to avoid a “meds-only” movement.

Behavioral drugs generally have achieved a good record in terms of safety and effectiveness when taken by youth. Still we need to remain concerned about the potential risks and side-effects that children might face who take them. For instance, some medications that are acceptable for adults or teens may not have been approved for younger kids. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has required labeling of a range of the anti-depression drugs warning that in some cases thoughts of suicide could increase through usage. Also, the FDA suggests that ADHD drugs may cause heart ailments in some youth. As widespread as prescriptions for drugs have become among children it may be early to to know yet what other side-effects may occur.

Another concern is “over-prescribing”. The rate at which doctors and other non-psychiatrists have prescribed mental/behavioral drugs has increased at a much higher rate than that of the mental health practitioners- the traditional gate-keeper for this type of diagnosis. Physicians often do not require- nor seek- a psychological assessment of their young patients to bolster or confirm their case prior to writing prescriptions. Without additional consultations of this kind, it stands to reason that at least some youth ingesting medications may not have been correctly diagnosed.

The bottom line suggests that a complementary approach of adding psychiatric counseling, and/or behavioral therapy techniques used in concert with drugs offers the best and most well-rounded plan for kids with mental health challenges. At the very least, employing other tactics may simply mean cutting down on average daily/weekly dosages.

In short, let’s not become alarmed at the sheer ubiquity of youth prescription meds since the drugs can and do provide relief to many. However, let’s stand on guard to make sure that kids are receiving all the options available that may help in the long-run.


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