Back two generations ago, very naughty kids got a slap on the rear. One generation ago, they were consigned to a seat in front of the television to keep them mesmerized. Now, it seems, they get a prescription for anti-psychotic medication.
I’ve written before about how the number of children “diagnosed” with bipolar disorder jumped an astounding 4,000 percent in the nine years between 1994 and 2003, leading to an avalanche of new prescriptions for psychotropic drugs. Now, a new study at the University of London Pharmacy School shows that the prevalence of psychiatric prescriptions for kids continues to escalate, particularly for hyperactivity and autism — and the problem is far worse in the US than elsewhere. According to the research, six times as many kids in the US take anti-psychotic meds as compared to children in Great Britain.
This hardly means that the number of kids on anti-psychotic prescriptions in England is a trifle. In fact, since 1992, the number of kids in England taking drugs to control conditions such as behavior problems, autism, and attention deficit disorder has doubled to about seven in every 10,000 children. In the US, the number currently is at about 45 children per 10,000. These drugs all have significant known side effects, ranging from drowsiness to weight gain, to nervous system issues and heart problems. The long-term effects on kids aren’t known, as the drugs haven’t actually been approved for pediatric use — a rather shocking fact. (And of course, these numbers do not include the astonishing six million children in the US on Ritalin.)
The authors of the study voiced concern about the advisability of prescribing anti-psychotic drugs to kids. “This highlights the need for long-term safety investigations and ongoing clinical monitoring, particularly if the prescribing rate of these medicines continues to rise,” they wrote.
Nevertheless, it does seem likely that the prescribing rates will continue to rise, given the trends. But why? Do more kids actually need psychotropic drugs than ever before? Are more kids going nutso because of the corresponding rise in violent video games, broken families, too much soda pop, or too much mercury in fish?
Or could it be something else, something that has led to a simultaneous, seemingly coincidental increase in the number of pets needing psychiatric drugs? Just last year, Eli Lilly won approval for a new, beef-flavored Prozac pill for troubled dogs — no joke — and apparently, there have been many takers. Thank goodness all those dogs suffering from separation anxiety now have pharmaceutical help, although some sources claim that the studies leading to the approval of the canine antidepressant, called “Reconcile,” were rigged.
All kidding aside, the important point here is that since both kids and pets have experienced a recent rise in psychiatric prescriptions, that pretty much undermines the theory that kids are going bipolar and ADHD because society is going to Hell. (Pets aren’t affected by societal issues.) In fact, the Lancet attributes the overabundance of pediatric prescriptions, particularly in the US, to an astounding source — “direct-to-consumer ads”–which, it says, “are more common in the States. These ads raise consumer awareness and a concomitant demand for medication.”
This doesn’t mean that environmental and cultural factors aren’t at play. It simply means that there’s a good chance the drug companies have an even greater influence in escalating the number of pediatric prescriptions. And as I’ve mentioned previously, the abundance of psychotropic prescriptions isn’t exactly making things better. Under the watchful eye of the medical community (and modern psychiatry in particular), teenage suicides are up yet again, and teenage psychotic breakdowns are also on the rise. In spite of all those prescriptions to help control autistic symptoms, the incidence of autism is also rising at an astounding rate, moving from one out of every 2000 kids in the 1980s to one out of every 150 now.
As Dr. David Fassler, a University of Vermont psychiatry professor, comments, “The more important question is whether or not the right kids are getting the most appropriate and effective treatment possible.” (All things considered, he should probably add “the safest treatment” to his list of qualifiers.) Surely, for some kids, psychiatric prescriptions might be useful, but the risks need to be investigated more thoroughly; diagnoses need to be made with more care and possibly with more restraint; and other avenues of treatment need to be considered.