As we navigate our way into the 21st century, there is an ominous trend that, strangely, doesn’t seem to concern people as much as it should: Millions of children are now taking psychotropic drugs. And they’re not doing it illegally, but by prescription. In fact, the medical and educational establishments are conducting a skyrocketing campaign
As we navigate our way into the 21st century, there is an ominous trend that, strangely, doesn’t seem to concern people as much as it should: Millions of children are now taking psychotropic drugs. And they’re not doing it illegally, but by prescription. In fact, the medical and educational establishments are conducting a skyrocketing campaign to get kids, and their parents, to “just say yes” to brain-altering pharmaceuticals, with the drug of choice being Ritalin. In 1970, when approximately 150,000 students were on Ritalin, America was alarmed enough to get the Drug Enforcement Agency to classify Ritalin and other amphetamine-type drugs as Class II substances, a category that includes cocaine and one that indicates significant risk of abuse. Despite this apparent safeguard, the number of children taking psychiatric stimulants today has risen over 40-fold; current estimates are that between 6 and 7 million children are taking them.[i]
The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that as many as 3.8 million school children, mostly boys, are currently diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and that at least a million children take Ritalin, a figure that many regard as a gross underestimate. And it is not just schoolchildren who are being dosed with psychotropics: Even preschoolers—those aged 2 to 4—experienced a tripling of such prescriptions in a recent five-year period.[ii]
Exactly why is all this juvenile pill-popping a problem? Well, for one thing, Ritalin is a drug that has a more potent effect on the brain than cocaine.[iii] And we’re supposed to be a country that eschews the use of such mind-altering substances, certainly for children. For another, Ritalin’s side effects can range from unwelcome personality changes to cardiovascular problems to death. Plus there’s the very real issue of whether the “diseases” for which this powerful medicine is prescribed are in fact real diseases at all.
The problem becomes further complicated when you consider that, in addition to the Ritalin explosion, increasing numbers of children are also being prescribed antidepressants, and that these are drugs originally designed and tested for adults. (A fact not generally publicized is that it’s legal to prescribe drugs “off label,” that is, for conditions or populations that they weren’t originally designed for.) So in 1996, over 700,000 children and adolescents were taking Prozac and similar antidepressants in the SSRI group, an 80-percent increase from just two years earlier. It’s not that the SSRI’s have been proven effective in battling childhood and adolescent depression. They haven’t.[iv] Nevertheless, today, the number of these prescriptions has surpassed one million. Psychiatrist Peter Breggin estimates that, each year, 10 percent of the school-age population will take one or more psychiatric drugs.[v] Some children are prescribed several at once. And the phenomenon continues to grow despite disturbing evidence of severe drug-induced personality changes, manic reactions, and psychotic behavior.
Medication advocates would argue that those children who are prescribed psychotropic drugs do in fact need them. Children with affective disturbances or attention deficits can focus better, and thus learn better when medicated, they say. Opponents protest that the efficacy and safety of these drugs have not been proven, and some, further, believe that many psychiatric “conditions” exist only as labels in the minds of psychologists. Whether or not these conditions are real, one must agree that the exceedingly high numbers of prescriptions written for children in recent years are a cause for grave concern. And they’re of concern not just to the children and parents directly touched by individual diagnoses, but to society at large. Consider the Columbine massacre and the rash of other school shootings that have rocked this country recently. As the Washington Times Insight Magazine reports, “the common link in the high school shootings may be psychotropic drugs like Ritalin and Prozac.” For example, in 1998, 14-year-old Kip Kinkle killed his parents and then went on a shooting spree at his Springfield, Oregon, high school, killing two and injuring 22. He was being treated with Ritalin and Prozac. Then there was the15-year-old taking Ritalin who in 1999 wounded six classmates in Heritage High School in Georgia, and the 18-year-old who raped and murdered a 7-year-old girl in 1997, one week after starting to take Dexedrine. One can’t help but ask whether psychotropic drugs are dangerous not just to those taking them, but also, in some cases, to “innocent bystanders.”
And there are some other basic questions people are beginning to ask as well: Do all these children need to be taking all these drugs? Are they really sick?