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The Medicated Child [home page]

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What are your thoughts concerning the powerful behavior-modifying drugs being prescribed to millions of American children - but they've not been adequately tested in kids. Do you have a story to share?

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am amazed at how convinced people are that parents put their children on medication easily. I have seen a steady decline with my twelve year old son. We have been in therapy for years and have tried all the alternative treatments. However, his rage and his depression have become overwhelming. We found a wonderful psychiatrist who diagnosed him with bipolar and put him on two different medicines (mood stabilizer and antidepressant). They worked well for about a year when he had another downward spiral. We have reevaluated his medicine and added an additional antidepressant. Has this been easy for us? Absolutely not. But what is even harder is watching our child suffer the way he has. Is it fair to let him try to kill himself, hurt his siblings and try to hurt us? No. I am grateful for the medication that is available and pray each day that he can lead a normal and productive life. I ask those who condemn this to put themselves in our situation and tell me what they would do.

Chevy Chase, MD

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have watch the program Frontline yesterday, November 3, 2009.I was diagnose with bipolar desorder about 2 years ago.My daugther also was diagnose as bipolar.She had many prescriptions and ended with abilify,now she do no want to take it.Is horrible how this drugs damage our childs minds.Lets pray for them.Congratulations for such a great program!!

Carmen Del Valle
Kissimmee, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think it ironic when people scream about how awful it is that pharmaceutical companies are funding research for these medications. Are these people the same as the ones who feel government should not be involved in health care? In our system as it is, who do they think will fund research for medication if not the pharmaceutical companies?

I felt that the doctor noting the uneasy relationship between the researchers put it very well. I wish more could have been focused around this.

Being a mental health practitioner, and a mother with a daughter diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder with mood disorder, I can attest to the unbelievable anxiety, heartbreak, worry and exhaustion we parents go through. It hasn't been perfect, but the medications, when they have worked, have given us glimmers of hope, and a bit of peace for our child. I shudder when I think what all our lives would have been like without these medications!

Mim Walden, MS, LP
South Orange, NJ

Dear FRONTLINE,

It is so infuriating to see parents completely ruin a child with medication. But your film failed in two extremely important regards. It failed to ask tough questions of the parents and the doctors who are prescribing this stuff. In my opinion, the doctor in your story who suggested Xanax for a child who doesn't want to go to school in the morning should lose his license and prosecuted. This is criminal. Equally culpable are the parents who trust doctors such as this and succumb their children to medical experiments. What happened to children being children and parents dealing with those children as parents, not as drug pushers? A four-year-old with bi-polar? Give me a break! Of course children are manic. They are children! I suggest this problem is largely the result of lazy parenting, a health care system bought and sold by corporations and doctors willing to let it happen.

David Rosenfeld
Portland, Oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

My 20 year old son was diagnosed with ADHD at 4 and bipolar at 9. We were devastated but relieved that there was a name for the horrible rages, manic behavior, extreme irritability and psychosis he was experiencing. I thank God every day for the medications, doctors and therapists that helped him and us over the last 16 years. My son is now attending tech school, living on his own and managing pretty well. Without these interventions, I'm convinced he'd have ended up in a permanent psychiatric facility, jail or dead. My heart goes out to other parents who have bipolar kids; we blame ourselves enough without having society tell us we are wrong for medicating our children. Not enough emphasis is put on what happens to these kids and their families if medication is not used. It dooms the kids to a childhood of rage, frustration, and hopelessness.

Debbie Edmondson
Monument, CO

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dr. Chang makes two fundamental errors in his approach to diagnosing bipolar illness in children. 1) Correlation is not causation. Yes, there are probably "bipolar" children with smaller amygdalas, but there are also "bipolar children" with average size amygdalas. I use quotation marks, because the criteria for bipolar illness in children is so subjective. If you look carefully at DSM-IV, you will see a great deal of overlapping among many diagnoses. So this might be a third fundamental error that Dr. Chang makes. How do we know that his samples really have bipolar illness? 2) Prevention is tricky. The number of false positives always greatly outweighs the number of true positives. Even with reliable criteria that is 90% accurate, 10% of the normal population will meet the criteria and be false positives. This is much greater than the clinical population, which is always a small percentage of the normal population. Dr. Chang overvalues the effectiveness of the medications he uses and is willing to stop a "kindling" effect in children that meet subjective criteria for bipolar illness.These drugs are not benign when used long term.Consequently, he is willing to treat children that may have no disorder in the guise of prevention. These children may do well, not because of Dr. Chang's treatment, but because they were never ill to begin with! Dr. Moniz won the Nobel prize for lobtomies. Everyone jumped on board in psychiatry in the 1950's. Look at the brutal results of that intervention. Well meaning and sincere doctors like Dr. Chang can end up doing far more damage than charlatans, especially when they have the Stanford logo behind their name. I am also dismayed that Frontline dumbed down the show by focusing on possible biases because Dr. Chang is supported by drug companies, rather than looking at the significant flaws in his scientific approach.

George Magakis, Ph.D.
Norristown, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I want to go one step back and ask why we think so many children have these "disorders"? By this I mean: if millions of children exhibit a behavior that we consider to be "abnormal", shouldn't we reconsider our definition of normal? America has always been a society that stresses conformity, fitting in, playing it straight. We are just not a society that is comfortable with diversity, at least not in behavior. It's ok to have a diverse cultural background, but it's expected that one think, act and speak in ways that fit into a very narrow spectrum. Having grown up abroad and moved here as an adult, I see this perhaps more clearly that those raised here.

Outside this spectrum is suspect, abnormal, "sick", and therefore, in need of medication. Our education system is structured so that only a narrow range of bahavior is considered acceptable. Why should that be? Education systems don't occur naturally, they are man-made. If our children don't fit into an artificially narrow system, isn't it a bit much to claim that it must be their fault? Children who don't fit into that range are labeled as "ill" and put on medication.

Now I know that each parent of a bi-polar, ADHD, OCD, etc, child will say that their child has real problems that require medication and that it's not the easy way out that it might apppear to be. However, we all generally acknowledge that over-diagnosis and over-medication are occurring, but assume that it's always some other kids who are the victims. A majority of Americans think that people are overusing healthcare in general, but only 16% think that they are doing so.

Wynnewood, Pennsylvania

Dear FRONTLINE,

I became very emotional watching this program. As a parent of a child who teachers wanted tested and medicated at six years old. We had him tested, twice, the first doctor said he could not find any reason to medicate, he was just a bright child who could be bored with the curiculum and needed more stimulation. The second could not find a reason to medicate but she would prescribe medication anyway, this upset me. As far as the teachers involved, I think they are overwelmed by the number of students and finding the children drugged up helps them do their job. That seems mean to say but that is my experience. My son is now in high school, he does go to special classes to help him cope and learn to deal with everyday issues he is not on any meds and that I'm so greatful for. To the parents, do not be afraid to voice your opinion, you do not have to agree to these doctors so quick to medicate, do research, learn patience, your child will benefit by the right choices you make.

savage, mn

Dear FRONTLINE,

Sixteen years ago, I was labeled hostile and uncooperative by the local mental health services board because I questioned why my son was diagnosed with 6 different disorders and was put on 28 different medications in 18 months. Every time the dr. put him on different meds, he said "If this works, then he has [insert disorder here]. I was referred to child protective services when I refused to continue with lithium after he displayed the side effects discribed in the program. Finally, someone has exposed the child abuse and parental intimidation perpetrated by mental health "professionals."

Williamsburg, VA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for airing this program. Although it poised questions and surely gave parents information to think with I really don't feel the story has been completely told.... Namely what has changed or happened in our world to cause this problem. The Psychiatrist are experimenting with our children and ruining our future... why not find out the source and from there find the solution. We live in a polluted world with an appalling diets. The answer lies in the source not it trying to cut off the symptoms. Psychiatrist are destroying our future race,we can not let them continue experimenting with our children.

liz sosa
LA, Ca.

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for showing this program a second time. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do a program on "alternative" approaches that can be as effective or more effective than these scary drugs which have unknown long term effects. Pointing people to sensible alternatives would be a great public service.

Yes, these are illnesses that should be taken seriously, but it is clear that the psychiatrists, though well-meaning and hard-working, are just plain guessing and pharmaceutical companies are spending the most money on studies.

However, there ARE studies on the effectiveness of fish oil, vitamin B supplementation, and other supplements which show they can be more effective than many of these expensive drugs. The McLean Hospital in Boston and Johns Hopkins are two places who have done such research and there's a lot more all over the globe.

We've been on a journey with our teen, who's been diagnosed over time by different doctors as ADD, bipolar, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder, and been prescribed 9 different drugs, with all kinds of strange and scary side effects.

After making the rounds of psychiatrists, psychologists, ER visits for suicide attempts, we finally had extensive labwork done, a process that took several months. (We consulted with functional medicine practitioners and naturopathic doctors.}

The labwork (mainly through Genova Disgnostics) turned up deficiencies of vitamin B6, vitamin D, selenium, Co-Enzyme Q10, magnesium, and several amino acids, in addition to mercury poisoning, various oddball thyroid results and high fasting glucose levels. Also allergies to several foods, including cane sugar, coffee, green beans, bell peppers, corn, soy, and chicken.

Amazingly, the symptoms have been going away as the allergic foods have been avoided, nutritional supplements to fix the deficiencies have been added, though my child is still on 2 of the more benign drugs, Vyvanse and Wellbutrin, though our goal is that those will no longer be needed.

I'm saddened that we were guided toward drugs first, and that my child had to deal with months of fogginess and fatigue vs. seeing great results with the alternative approaches. It has taken some experimentation and tweaking, but it's worked.

Unfortunately, we've had to battle our insurance for support, and the supplements aren't covered, though all the scary drugs are --- your attention to this important area would go a long way to making this a more accepted approach, and I believe in the long run, it could help reduce healthcare costs. After all, bipolar is one of the top causes of long term disability in the US.

pacific, northwest

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you all for the informative show tonight. I'd like to think that it started out as a slightly more hard hitting piece, but in the end it seemed like more of an advertisement for big pharma.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that powerful and toxic prescription drugs that have little or no testing on children, should be presented as a primary mental health therapy choice for the majority of children.

I'd like to see one of those doctors slug down a months worth of even just one of those kids meds. I doubt they would because of the known toxicity levels of these classes of medication.

The Hippocratic oath, "First, do no harm." suggests that poisoning children slowly, for such meager results, is fundamentally a poor first choice.

A more comprehensive review of the hundreds of safer treatment options available would have made this show seem less skewed. Just Yoga? I think PBS needs to do their own homework.

John Griffin
San Francisco, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Have often believed that the pharmaceutical industries motto is 'create a need and fill it'. Looks like its working.

Nothing in the Frontline piece mentioned diet, the effect of computers and video games on children, or environmental issues that can be changed. Some children do better if homeschooled, or in private schools like Montessori, Waldorf, or Summerhill. My Mother taught second grade for forty years and she said its only been since the early 80's that all of a sudden children were being drugged more and more.

Tell me what other countries in the developed world drug their children? What are all these countries doing that keeps their children off of psychiatric drugs? For me its child abuse to drug children.

Beth Hartford-DeRoos
Calaveras County , California

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 21 years old. Since then I have been in and out of Mental hospials. I am curently attending college, trying to get my Art Degree. I first had symptoms in highschool but was undiagnosed. I spent 2 months at home sleeping more than 20 hours a day and not wanting to get up and missing two months of highschool. I eventually went back and finished highschool.I went to U.C. Davis in 1998, but felt totally alienated from my peers and feel into another great depression. Thought about taking my life for the first time. Then I went back home and sleep again for 20 plus hours a day.in 2006 I went in to mental hospital and came out and started living on my own. My biggest fright was when I felt the urge to hurt my mother and father, thats when I knew I had to go to hospital, I have been on psychiatric meds for ten years now I am thirty years old. Your program really opened my eyes

Jimmy Guan
Sacramento , California

Dear FRONTLINE,

I wish you had examined the family dynamics of these children. For example, how much lousy television did they watch? How many sedentary video games did they play? How much free play time did they get? How many hours of physical play outdoors did they get? How effective were their parents in expressing love and appropriate discipline? Were they read to often? Did they have pets, especially dogs?

As a former public-school teacher who was alarmed by the culture's tendency to medicate problem children, I have no doubt their schools failed them. Children are virtually put into straight jackets in school, especially little boys. They are both over-stimulated and under challenged, which often results in "misbehavior".

I am positive that a better environment for these kids would have made all the difference in the world. I saw it many times in my own classes. For kids to thrive in the anti-child environments that are our schools, they must have good nurturing families. Those who don't are double victims with little hope until they can move out on their own. But it can take them years to recover.

Marcia Yiapan
Nampa, ID

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posted january 8, 2008

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