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Are Our Children Over-Medicated?
From "Don't Be Frightened of Medicine That Helps", The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, September 25, 2000

        Patricia Dalton, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Washington D.C., writes in this commentary that we shouldn't be overly fearful of trying medications to treat a mental illness in our child.  Her article was written in response to a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association that revealed there has been a dramatic increase in the use of psychotropic medications for children between ages 2 and 4 years.  Indeed, use of stimulants such as Ritalin and antidepressants such as Prozac for this age group has more than doubled between 1991 and 1995.

    Should we be worried?  Dr. Dalton points out that psychotropic medications for children have been both
over- and under-prescribed, depending upon the children in question.  Yes, some doctors and some parents have been overly zealous in giving children medications.  But a larger number of children in need are receiving no medications.  

    The office of the Surgeon General reports that of the 70 million children and adolescents in the U.S., between 6 and 9 million have a serious emotional disturbance.  Yet because of lack of appropriate attention or lack of access to healthcare, only one in five of these emotionally disturbed children are getting the help they need!  Some 3 to 5 percent of children are affected by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), yet only 1.2 of these children are getting treatment.  And while some 2.5 percent of children suffer clinical depression, only .3 percent are receiving treatment!  The proportion suffering depression rises to 8 percent for adolescents.

    Dr. Dalton explains that we do indeed need to be careful in medicating our children.  There have been very few controlled studies of the use of psychotropic medications with children.  We don't yet know the long term consequences of medicating a child through the developmental years.  Yet, the consequences of not treating a child in need are well documented.  The prisons are full learning disabled young men who had ADHD that became uncontrolled Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  And the suicide rate among children and adolescents is now reaching epidemic levels.  A diagnosable mental disorder is thought to exist in 90 percent of all suicides.  Dr. Dalton explains, "We can make a difference with the judicious use of drugs.  There are children who are counting on it - and severe consequences for failing to treat children adequately." 

    A Concluding Note from David Peters - There is indeed a problem of recklessly prescribing psychotropic medications to children.  This usually occurs when a concerned parent takes a troubled child to the pediatrician, who then prescribes medication without recommending family counseling or therapy.  This puts a child at risk, as the parents are not educated on how to help their child with the problem, and the source of the disturbance may never be addressed.  As the problem persists, more medications are given;  but with no therapy, the result is another treatment failure.   Overwhelming research indicates that the best treatment approach is to try therapy first, and to add medication as is necessary to save a child from the destructive downward spiral of illness.  And most psychotropic medications should be prescribed by a Board Certified psychiatrist, rather than your pediatrician.  Psychiatry is a specialty area with required ongoing study to keep up with the latest research.  If we're treating your child, why not get the best?  Quality family counseling with psychotropic medications if needed.  Let's not neglect our children's needs. 


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