Published by Robert O'Block
Medicating Children and Adolescents
About the author
Irene Rosenberg Javors is a Diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association, a licensed mental health counselor, and a psychotherapist in New York City. She is also an adjunct associate professor of mental health counseling in the Mental Health Counseling Program of the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University. She is the author of Culture Notes: Essays on Sane Living (ACFEI Media, 2010).
In the article “So Young and So Many Pills (Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2010, sec.D, p.1), Anna Wilde Mathews reports that “more than 25% of kids and teens in the U.S. take prescriptions on a regular basis.” She goes on to inform us that “children and teens (are taking a wide variety of) medications once considered only to be for adults, from statins to diabetes pills and sleep drugs.” She also states that “prescriptions for antihypertensives in people aged 19 and younger could hit 5.5 million this year.”
Mathews further informs us that anti-psychotic medications have been prescribed to 6,546,000 young people, with the following breakdown: 1,396,000 to children 0–9 years and 5,150,000 to those 10–19 years; antidepressants to 9,614,000: 1,026,000 to children 0-9 years and 8,588,000, 10–19 years; and medications for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to 24,357,00: 7,018,000 to ages 0–9 years and 17,339,000 to ages 10–19 years.
My first response to reading these statistics: “Wow!” My next: What is going on here? And why are so many of our children and teens suffering from such chronic conditions? Mathews suggests that early detection may account for some of these numbers. She also points out that researchers attribute some of what’s going on to “unhealthy diets and lack of exercise among children, which lead to too much weight gain and obesity,” and that this “also fuels the use of some treatments, such as those for hypertension.”
For the most part, children are given medications that have been tested in adults and not young people. We have no idea what these drugs are doing to children. Mathews quotes Dr. Danny Benjamin, who is “leading a new National Institutes of Health initiative to study drugs in children,” as saying, “we know we’re making errors in dosing and safety.” He suggests that “parents do as much research as they can to understand the evidence for the medicine.”
As mental health professionals working with children, teens, parents, and other health care providers, we need to become very well-informed about all the medications that are prescribed for our clients. We need to be cautious in making a diagnosis as well as making sure to watch out for and identify side effects from the prescribed medication(s). We need to support parents’ efforts to find out as much as possible about the medications that are given to their children.
Mathews reports that “parents and doctors also say nondrug alternatives should be explored where possible.” She quotes Tom Wells, professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, as saying, “obesity is really the biggest cause I see for high blood pressure in adolescents...but only 10% of families adhere to (his) diet and exercise recommendations.”
As counselors, we need to re-evaluate our relationship to medication. Do we suggest medication too quickly? Are there other ways of dealing with the problem? Are we still searching for the “magic bullet,” the quick fix to cure what ails us? How do we find a balance between over-reliance on drugs for symptom relief and finding a drug-free path to cope with and/or overcome pain and ill health? Are these chronically sick children who are suffering from asthma, high blood pressure and cholesterol, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, insomnia, and diabetes the proverbial “canaries in the mine,” sending us a loud message that the way we live, now, is making us very sick, if not killing us?
I hope that we are listening!