Thursday, June 9, 2011

Psychoactive Drugs: Chemical Abuse of the Young

The overtreatment of children with powerful antipsychotic drugs is the topic of an article by Naomi Freundlich on Maggie Mahar’s Health Beat blog. She presents the problem for society as a whole, but the main focus of the article is the use of drugs on youths in juvenile correction facilities.

“Children and the overuse of strong psychiatric drugs: It’s an issue that continues to make headlines as the newest class of antipsychotics like Serequel, Abilify and Zyprexa become first-line treatment for an ever-growing population of troubled kids. Although these drugs are only approved to treat schizophrenia and serious bipolar disorders, their use has skyrocketed in the last decade or so—sales topped $14 billion last year—and the media has reported widely on the epidemic of children receiving these and other psychotropic medication for attention disorders, depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

The potential for side effects and long-term damage is enormous. The author mentions sedation, weight gain, and early onset of diabetes. In a previous post we discussed the brain damage that could ensue, the need to cascade other strong drugs to counter the effects of the original drug, and the difficulties with withdrawal after usage. It has been argued that antipsychotic drugs may, rather than cure mental illnesses, cause them. We also discussed the means by which drug companies can control the information about drug effectiveness and mislead the medical community about their effectiveness.

“Children covered by Medicaid are disproportionately prescribed these medications. And at a recent presentation to the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. John Goethe, director of the Burlingame Center for Psychiatric Research in Connecticut, reported that over the last 10 years, ‘more than half of all children aged 5 to 12 in psychiatric hospitals were prescribed antipsychotics’.”

Prescription is common for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ATHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) even though there is no demonstrated effectiveness for these conditions.

Freundlich picked up on an article by Michael Laforgia published by the Palm Beach Post. He studied drug usage in Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice facilities.

“Overall, in 24 months, the department bought 326,081 tablets of Seroquel, Abilify, Risperdal and other antipsychotic drugs for use in state-operated jails and homes for children.”
“That's enough to hand out 446 pills a day, seven days a week, for two years in a row, to kids in jails and programs that can hold no more than 2,300 boys and girls on a given day.”

Freundlich accumulates other data that is consistent with overuse of drugs in a number of states, suggesting that it has become common practice. Critics accuse personnel of using drugs as an easy means of controlling behavior.

“Critics of the widespread use....go a step further, charging that juvenile facilities, under-funded, under-staffed and reduced to warehousing troubled kids, are using these drugs as ‘chemical restraints;’ more effective and less directly abusive than isolation or physical restraints yet cheaper than the use of intensive therapy or other behavioral and community approaches for dealing with disruptive behavior.”

Freundlich points out that while there is a higher incidence of mental health issues in the population of detained juveniles, the use of these medications is driven more by economics than any attempt to help these troubled youths. Budget cutbacks across the country have left juvenile facilities without the means to adequately address the needs of individuals. The philosophy seems to be to at least keep them “restrained” and under control.

While an argument might be made that the staff is doing the best it can, Lafargia discovered evidence of unsavory alliances between doctors and drug companies.

“In Part II of the Post’s investigation, Laforgia mines records recently released by drug companies that list payments and gifts to physicians and finds a strong correlation between psychiatrists who work for Florida’s DJJ and receive these gifts and the number of prescriptions they write for kids in custody. ‘One in three of the psychiatrists who have contracted with the state Department of Juvenile Justice in the past five years has taken speaker fees or gifts from companies that make antipsychotic medications,’ writes Laforgia. That one-third of DJJ-associated doctors went on to write more than half of all prescriptions for these drugs—sometimes before they even were approved for any use in children.”

The practice of prescribing dangerous drugs to children requires more control. This is not a small problem. There has been tremendous growth in the incidence of mental illness in the population as a whole, but the growth is much greater in children. It is curious that the initiation of this growth coincides with the introduction of psychoactive drugs like Prozac. Yes, one should be suspicious. A lot of people make money out of mental illness, and none more than the drug companies.

So keep your children away from drugs. It used to be the streets that were dangerous. Now, one has to be concerned about doctors' offices and schools. The next time you hear a teacher say that your child would do better in school if only he/she took some medication to calm him/her down—stop and do some research. And don’t put your trust only in what a doctor might tell you. Check it out.

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