More on medicating preschoolers

In my last post (see below) I pointed out an interesting article in the NYT about a new trend in diagnosing preschool age children with clinical depression. In the post I expressed concern about that and another trend I had noticed myself recently while reading about autism, which is an increase in co-diagnosing autism with other disorders, such as bipolar disorder, and the prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to children receiving these diagnoses. Without having researched the issue very deeply, though, I indicated that I was probably being too critical.

Well, today there is yet another fascinating article in the NYT (see here) and coincidentally it is about this very issue of the new trend in prescribing antipsychotic drugs to young children. The article seems to validate (and then some) the concerns I expressed in my last post.

Check out this excerpt from the article:

More than 500,000 children and adolescents in America are now taking antipsychotic drugs, according to a September 2009 report by the Food and Drug Administration. Their use is growing not only among older teenagers, when schizophrenia is believed to emerge, but also among tens of thousands of preschoolers.

Columbia University study recently found a doubling of the rate of prescribing antipsychotic drugs for privately insured 2- to 5-year-olds from 2000 to 2007. Only 40 percent of them had received a proper mental health assessment, violating practice standards from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“There are too many children getting on too many of these drugs too soon,” Dr. Mark Olfson, professor of clinical psychiatry and lead researcher in the government-financed study, said.

Scary stuff.

The article begins with a description of a young boy who had been prescribed antispychotic medication from the age of 18 months for temper tantrums. The boy was subsequently given many different diagnoses, including autism, bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and was prescribed other medications in addition to the antipsychotic medication, including Prozac, multiple sleeping medications and drugs for attention deficit disorder. And this was all before he had turned three! Fortunately, the child (now 6) is off the medications, except for one, and it turns out — surprise, surprise — that he is simply a normal, healthy and intelligent six year-old whose only problem is a short attention span.

In short, it seems that my concern about antipsychotic drugs for preschoolers was not totally off the mark. Actaully, to borrow a phrase from those who spread false alarm about global warming, “It’s worse than we thought.”

– Dave

P.S. While I don’t always agree with the way the NYT covers various issues, kudos to them for these recent, eye-opening articles.


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