NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Kids and Psychiatric Drugs

April 16, 2003

As doctors prescribe more and more psychiatric drugs to kids, many people wonder whether the children's health will pay some long-term price. Others note the children could pay a long-term price if they don't take the drugs. Part of the issue is whether or not the presence of chemicals (e.g., drugs) might alter a developing brain. Conversely, others worry the presence of untreated disease (e.g., depression) might also alter a developing mind.

An increasing percentage of school-age children are taking medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine:

  • In tests, children with ADHD had brain volumes three percent less than normal children without the condition.
  • Unmedicated children with ADHD lagged their peers in connective (white matter) tissue.
  • Yet, medicated children with ADHD had connective (white matter) tissue about the same as those without ADHD.

While lasting changes may be cause for alarm, it is also conceivable that administering certain medications to the youngest children could permanently correct a problem. Imaging studies of brains are making it possibly to identify those who truly have a disease rather than merely exhibit a few symptoms.

However, many of the drugs for adults haven't been fully tested in children. The Food and Drug Aministration has pushed for more studies on children. Not just of drugs, but also other therapies including behavioral or talk therapies.

Source: Karen Patterson, "Medicating Young Minds: A Gray Area," Dallas Morning News, April 14, 2003.


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