Psychiatric Drug Use Soars In Toddlers Despite Limited Knowledge Of Effects

A widely publicized study first published in the Feb. 23, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, (JAMA), questions the rise in prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Prozac in toddlers 2 to 4 years of age. The study indicates that there was a 50% jump in usage of these psychiatric drugs in this age group between the years of 1991 and 1995.

A number of news organizations picked up the story including MSNBC who reported, “Experts said they are troubled by the findings because the effects of such drugs in children so young are largely unknown.” They go on to say that doctors are worried that these drugs used so early could be dangerous for a child’s development. The study showed that in 1991 about 100,000 children were getting the drugs. In 1995 that jumped up to 150,000 children. Of that 60% were age 4, 30% were age 3, and 10% were 2 year olds!

US News and World Report also carried the same story in their March 6, 2000 issue. In that report they also questioned doctors ability to understand using these drugs. This story cited a 1999 survey from the University of North Carolina sent to Family Physicians and Pediatricians. In that survey 72% of the doctors said they had prescribed antidepressants to children under 18, but only 16% of those said they felt comfortable doing so, and only 8% said they had adequate training to treat childhood depression. The article in US News goes on to say, “Almost nothing is known about how antidepressants and other psychoactive drugs affect a child’s developing brain.”

Just last week the United Nations, “lambasted” the United States for “over prescribing psychiatric drugs.” According to the UN panel the United States consumes 80 percent of the worlds methylphenidate (generic of Ritalin). The US News article then asks the question, “Are American youngsters indeed suffering more behavioral illnesses, or have we as a society become less tolerant of disruptive behavior?”

The lead author of the original study, Julie Mango Zito PhD, sums it up best as reported on Feb 22, 2000 in when she said, “I am very concerned about long term safety. They are starting kids earlier on medication and keeping them on longer. Who knows what development process could be influenced by regular daily dosage? It could affect their brain, heart, liver, or other organs.”