Psychiatric drugs are now being prescribed for infants. According to the New York Times, children as young as 18-months-old who display alarmingly violent or withdrawn behavior are being prescribed psychiatric drugs normally administered to adults suffering from neurological disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety.
Based on statistics, there is a growing trend of diagnosing small children with suspected neurological disorders. To treat these children, doctors are progressively bypassing psychiatric evaluations and using the power of the prescription pad to treat behavior speculated to be some form of psychiatric disorder. In fact, psychiatric drug prescriptions are even being written for infants as young as 5-months-old.
In 2014, more than 80,000 prescriptions for Prozac and 20,000 prescriptions for psychiatric drugs such as Risperdal and other antipsychotic medications were written for children under the age of 2. Statistics also highlighted an increase in the number of prescriptions for antidepressants being written for small children. Due to the distinct spike in prescriptions, statistics suggest this is a new trend among psychiatric specialists.
Since doctors have the authority to prescribe psychiatric drugs for any reason they see fit, these medications are being prescribed to small children without proven studies confirming whether they are safe and beneficial or potentially dangerous with long-term side effects that could be detrimental to the mental development of small children.
Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at Tulane University School of Medicine, insists the idea of psychiatric drugs for children is seemingly innocuous. Although there are no studies supporting the practice, she believes no studies are needed since the drugs have never been subjected to formal clinical trials in children. However, many schools have expressed apprehension about administering certain drugs to school-aged children.
“People are doing their very best with the tools available to them,” said Dr. Gleason. “There’s a sense of desperation with families of children who are suffering, and the tool that most providers have is the prescription pad. There are not studies and I’m not pushing for them.”
However, a number of child psychiatric experts have expressed concerns about the use of these drugs for small children. Although many of the parents are desperate to alleviate alarming, questionable behavior that raises justifiable concerns, it is still relatively difficult to diagnose such a young child who is still in the early developmental stage. Dr. Ed Tronick, a professor of developmental and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston, argued this perspective as well.
“I think you simply cannot make anything close to a diagnosis of these types of disorders in children of that age,” said Dr. Tronick. “There’s this very narrow range of what people think the prototype child should look like. Deviations from that lead them to seek out interventions like these. I think it’s just nuts.”
Dr. Martin Drell, former president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, is adamant about finding some form of rationale to justify prescribing adult psychiatric drugs for infants. In fact, he feels some of these particular cases should be identified to examine whether the drugs are safe for children.
“But where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” Dr. Drell said. “For the protection of kids, we should evaluate this. We should identify who these cases are. Maybe it’s not 10,000, but I’ll be unhappy if it’s even in the hundreds.”
If things continue to progress at this rate, many Americans could see more children younger than age 2 being prescribed medications for mental illnesses, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a previous New York Times report. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 10,000 children approximately 2 to 3-years-old have already been prescribed Adderall.
At what age do you think a child is too young to be prescribed psychiatric drugs? Share your thoughts.
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