PSYCHIATRIC DRUGS: Many Support Plan to Curb Use in Kids
Mental health experts, teachers and drug manufacturers "reacted favorably" yesterday following the announcement of a White House plan to lower the number of young children on psychiatric drugs, the New York Times reports. Speaking at a press conference yesterday, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "We are not here to bash the use of these medications. They have literally been a godsend for countless adults and young people with behavioral and emotional problems." But she cautioned that "some of these young people have problems that are symptoms of nothing more than childhood or adolescence." The National Institute of Mental Health yesterday said that it would finance a study on the use of behavioral modification drugs in preschool children. Currently, Ritalin, a popular drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is approved as a treatment for children ages 6 or older, while the antidepressant Prozac is approved for people 18 or older. However, both drugs are commonly used to treat young children. Dr. Laurence Greenhill, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who proposed the Ritalin study, said, "Doctors are sometimes too quick to prescribe medications for preschool children. The behavior of an enthusiastic, ebullient 3-year-old with lots of energy can be misinterpreted as attention deficit disorder when it's just a variant of normal behavior."
Parents to Blame?
The administration's plan was hailed by the education community as well. Jerald Newberry, director for the health information program of the National Education Association, said that school officials often feel pressure to "recommend a medical solution" for a student's emotional or behavioral problems. Further, some experts believe that parents are partly to blame. Dr. Lanny Copeland, chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said that many parents view these drugs as "a cure-all for their children's problems." Ritalin manufacturer Novartis welcomed the call to study the drug's effects in preschool children (Pear, 3/21). However, some mental health experts defended the use of the medications for young children. Dr. Sabina Hack, a psychiatrist at the New York University Child Study Center, said, "The bottom line is that for many of these children, they have serious behavioral or mental conditions that cause them great pain, suffering and dysfunction" (Wasserman, New York Daily News, 3/21).