Local battle highlights skyrocketing rates of ADD/ADHD and depression drug use in children
“ZOMBIE: Boy, 12, Sues School Over Drug Horror”, screamed a recent New York Post headline screamed. The accompanying article called attention to a 12-year-old upstate boy whose parents sued his school after the school administration forced him to take a daily cocktail of drugs that turned him into “a psychotic who heard voices in his head.”
This “drugging” began after his teacher said the student was exhibiting symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They even banned him from attending classes unless he was drugged. ADHD is marked by pervasive and persistent difficulty sitting still, paying attention, or controlling impulsive behavior that interferes with home, academic and social life.
The boy’s school filed a medical-neglect and child-abuse complaint against his mother after she stopped the medication after two years. In the wake of the lawsuit, there have been widespread complaints by New York parents alleging that city educators are pressuring them into medicating their children with psychiatric drugs. These allegations prompted outgoing Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy to investigate these charges, as well as notify schools that such coercion is inappropriate.
Drugs on the rise
These reports come on the coattails of a new finding that the number of children using psychotropic medications — for depression, various emotional/behavioral conditions and the dubious condition ADD/ADHD — has tripled in the last decade. The study appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Overall, 14 out of 1,000 children were using the medications in 1987, according to the study. By 1996, that number increased to 39 children per 1,000. Specifically, researchers found that the number of children using Ritalin and Adderall, both used for ADD, quadrupled from 6 per 1,000 to 24 per 1,000, between 1986 and 1996. (Note: these were some of the drugs cited in the recent New York State lawsuit). Additionally, children using antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft rose from 3 per 1,000 to 10 per 1,000 for the same time period.
It’s important not to overreact to the new lawsuits or statistics, says the study’s author,
Peter S. Jensen, M.D., of the Center for the Advancement of Children's Mental Health in the Department of Child Psychiatry at Columbia University/NY State Psychiatric Institute.
“For parents whose children are not taking [these drugs], but where it has been recommended, know that a lot of research has established the safety and efficacy of these medications in children 6 years and older Dr. Jensen says. “ If a child has well-diagnosed ADHD, the rising trends are no reason not to have your child treated.” In fact, he points out, the new study indicates that only about half of kids with presumed ADHD are being treated in any given year.
“Second,” he adds, “understand that because the diagnosis is more popular, there is the risk of misdiagnosis.”
His advice? Insist on a careful evaluation by a well-trained pediatrician with experience in the area, a child psychiatrist or a child psychologist.
The new study reported that many children, like the 12-year-old boy whose case started a public outcry, are on cocktails of medication to treat multiple emotional disorders.
“The general rule is the fewer meds, the better, but don't let a child suffer if one medication alone, carefully adjusted to achieve optimal benefit, still hasn't fully relieved his/her symptoms,” Dr. Jensen says. “Sometimes an ADHD child will also be depressed or anxious, or severely impulsive and a second medicine can be a godsend.”
Not every expert is in favor of medicating children for emotional ails.
Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., author of several books, including Homeopathic Remedies for Children's Common Ailments (McGraw Hill, 1995), has lectured extensively on this topic. “There are a lot of things to do for these children besides putting them on medication,” Dr. Dean says. “We really can’t keep putting kids on drugs without looking at the whole picture.”
She suspects that diet may play a role in the fact that ADHD has been diagnosed in 2 million current elementary school aged children. “Kids are eating far too much sugar, which tends to over-stimulate them. And if they are not eating sugar, they are eating synthetic sugar such as aspartame, a known neurostimulant,” Dr. Dean says.
First, she suggests looking to food allergies and diets as a potential cause.
Also, watching television could also be a cause because children sit immobilized, in front of the TV while their neurons dance in their head. “In school, if their brain isn’t stimulated, they may start twitching and acting up to create stimulation and then they are labeled as having ADD,” she says.
Dr. Dean, who sits on the board of the Children’s Movement for Creative Education (CMCE), suggests encouraging children to participate in more physical activity outdoors instead of allowing them to sit in front of the television. The New York-based CMCE aims to increase children’s stimulation level by integrating art, movement, meditation, and cooperative learning into standard academic curricula.
Dr. Dean further adds that homeopathic remedies have no side effects and can be helpful in treating emotional problems in children. For example, Arg nit is used for the hyperactive child with a sweet tooth, and cal phos is suited to the child who likes to play pranks but is still shy and afraid; while chamomilla is used to calm the excessively agitated child who cannot sit still for one minute, and literally wears himself out to the point of tears.
For more information on ADD/ADHD, contact Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder at www.chadd.org or the Children’s Movement for Creative Education at 427 West 45th Street, Suite 2FE, New York, N.Y. 10036 (212) 664-1014 (Phone); www.childrensmovement.org
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