NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 11, 2006

Using such diagnoses as bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Asperger's, doctors are justifying the sedation of difficult kids with powerful psychiatric drugs that may have serious, permanent or even lethal side effects, says Elizabeth J. Roberts, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in California.

There has been a staggering jump in the percentage of children diagnosed with a mental illness and treated with psychiatric medications:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2002 almost 20 percent of office visits to pediatricians were for psychosocial problems -- eclipsing asthma and heart disease.
  • That same year, the Food and Drug Administration reported that some 10.8 million prescriptions were dispensed for children, who are beginning to outpace the elderly in the consumption of pharmaceuticals.
  • This year, the FDA reported that between 1999 and 2003, 19 children died after taking prescription amphetamines, the medications used to treat ADHD; these are the same drugs for which the number of prescriptions written rose 500 percent from 1991 to 2000.

Some psychiatrists speculate that this stunning increase in childhood psychiatric disease is entirely due to improved diagnostic techniques.  But setting aside the children with legitimate mental illnesses who must have psychiatric medications to function normally, much of the increase in prescribing such medications to kids is due to the widespread use of psychiatric diagnoses to explain away the results of poor parenting practices, says Roberts.

Source: Elizabeth J. Roberts, "Medicating minds," Washington Post/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 11, 2006.


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