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Kids Get Psychiatric Drugs Too Often

The above headline is from the October 21, 2001 issue of the USA Today newspaper. The opening sentence from the article makes the statement, "Doctors are increasingly prescribing psychiatric drugs such as Ritalin and Prozac to preschoolers, despite questions about safety and effectiveness."

Child psychiatrist Glen Elliott of the University of California Medical School in San Francisco, spoke at the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in San Francisco and said, "Every pressure I'm aware of is pushing toward more use of these pills in young kids, and the potential for problems is huge." He goes on to explain, "HMOs are encouraging quick diagnoses, working parents often can't be home to enforce structured behavior-improvement programs, and everyone seems to want quick fixes."

The concern about usage of these drugs has been growing following a recent report that showed that Ritalin use more than tripled in preschoolers between 1991 and 1995, and prescriptions for antidepressants doubled in that age group during the same period. Dr. Marsha Rappley, a pediatrician at Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine in East Lansing states that one of the concerns are side effects, which can range from mild to significant. Problems that can occur include headaches, stomach aches, sleep problems and loss of appetite. Additionally there is very little research on safety and effectiveness in kids under 4.

Dr. Elliott worries about the long-term dangers of prescribing drugs such as Prozac to small children. "Antidepressants change how brain chemicals work, and permanent changes might result from kids taking such drugs since we know a lot of brain development is still going on at this young age."

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