Health Community Divided Over Prescription Drugs for Children
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ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: I’m not sure when I became aware of how pervasive drug use has become among the people around me.
I’m talking completely legal drug use, not just by the adults but by their children. Walk through any school at any grade level anywhere in this country and you can bet there are students routinely taking Ritalin or Adderall for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Prozac or Paxil or Zoloft for depression.
It’s astonishing to think how pervasively these drugs have taken hold, how quickly we went from pot to Prozac, from a nation aghast at the use of drugs in the ’80s to a nation encouraging their use 20 years later, even for the very young.
In 2002, 11 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written for our kids. Do we really believe that around one out of every seven children belong on drugs?
We have just had our first sharp warning sign that we’ve been too quick to medicate. Some pharmaceutical companies actually tried to suppress the warning signs, specifically the fact that antidepressants can actually increase suicidal thoughts and tendencies in kids who take them.
Now those pills will come with FDA-mandated warning labels not unlike the little black boxes on cigarette packages. My guess is that it’s just a speed bump on the highway to the increasingly pharmacological future.
There’s too much money in it, too many companies, and, let’s be honest, plenty of adults who were enamored of mood-altering drugs when they were kids.
And there’s also an emphasis on brain science now, on research showing that our emotions and fears are all neuro-chemically driven. Why not calm an erratic wild child with a daily dose of Ritalin? Isn’t that kinder than letting him or her flail through the formative years?
Why not buoy an unhappy teen with antidepressants? Isn’t that more efficient than a combination of talk therapy and exercise and maybe a healthy diet? That’s one side of the argument.
But there’s another side, the perhaps retro notion that we are more than our synapses and that we should learn to live with our sorrows and griefs and ragged loves and losses, not treat them as afflictions, and that if we medicate our kids, they will not learn to manage their own moods and behavior.
There is a sense, too, that harried parents too often accede to the use of these drugs because they don’t have the time or energy for their children, and that school administrators too quickly urge the use of drugs to resolve behavioral or developmental problems that they don’t have the resources or expertise to deal with.
This is not to argue against using drugs for the disturbed, in tandem preferably with good, old-fashioned talking therapy. But it is to question if we as a culture are throwing drugs at everything, every mood twitch and disappointment and emotional trauma because it is easier than dealing with the problem.
At the bottom of all this is the strange feeling that we are farther down a chemical road than we even imagined. Part of it is the drug companies, but only part of it. The other part is this is who many of us are now.
This is how we think of ourselves and our loved ones, as people whose souls and psyches can be fixed if we can only find the right pill.
I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.