By David Joel Miller.
Is your child taking too many meds? Are you?
Ever wonder about the amount of medication, especially heavy psychiatric medication, which is being prescribed to very young children, especially foster children? I know I do. How did we get so many children who need that level of medication? What should you think if your child or the child you care for was prescribed that kind of medication?
There was an article on the internet this morning about the large number of prescriptions for antipsychotics to foster children. These kids were being given not one medication but multiple medications and many of those medications have serious long-term side effects. Some of these side effects do not go away even after the medication is discontinued. So is all that medication really necessary?
The usual warning applies here. No matter what you and I think, it is unwise to stop, start or alter the dose of a medication without talking with your doctor first. If you are not confident with that doctor’s opinion get a second opinion. It is not safe to play doctor and change the meds yourself. But you should question things if the medications are not working or if it appears to be creating serious side effects.
So why so much medication in children? And why foster children in particular?
Now we have been hearing tales about facilities who over medicate residents to keep them manageable for a long time. Mary Jane Ward in her book “Snakepit” describes patients in a mental hospital who were heavily medicated primarily to keep them from causing the staff problems. We also hear stories about jails and prisons using lots of meds to keep inmates from causing trouble. But is that sort of thing happening to kids? And why foster kids?
Maybe the reason is that foster kids are the ones that have the most problems? Are children in foster care more likely to have serious mental illnesses? There are two reasons to think this is not true.
The study reported that when kids in foster care were compared to other kids who were receiving Medicare the foster kids got a lot more medication that the kids who were not in foster care. Secondly, the kids in foster care should be the ones who would respond to a secure home situation. Foster care is usually looked at as a housing problem, not a mental health problem. So the seriously mentally ill children should and often do end up in group homes and institutions where they can be managed with less, not more medication. So what is going on here?
One problem is that as a society we are increasingly relying on medications, drugs if you will, to fix all our problems. Despite all our programs to get people off drugs, there are countless commercials that try to convince us to go to the local drug store and get some pills to cure all that ails us. Try counting the number of pro-drug ads on the television on any given night and then tell me that we as a society are opposed to drugs. In this country we love drugs so much, are so convinced there is a chemical that can cure whatever is wrong with us that we now want all our children to take all the drugs they can. We just want them to get their drugs from a drug store not a drug dealer in an alley.
So why are children being given so many drugs? To relive suffering? Not a chance!
Kids are getting prescribed drugs to make them smarter and to make them behave.
Kids are being prescribed powerful stimulants for ADHD. Even kids with mental retardation and developmental delays are getting ADHD medication. This makes me question the accuracy of some ADHD diagnoses. And if the pills make one kid smarter shouldn’t all children take them? Here is hoping you read that blog post also.
The other reason kids get so much psychiatric medication is to make them behave. I thought not always behaving properly was a symptom of childhood? Can’t we teach them to behave without sedating medications?
Children are being given lots of sedating anti psychotics mostly because their behavior is causing some adult a problem. Some of my colleagues will argue that if the child does poorly in school or gets in trouble for bad behavior they will end up suffering so by giving them medication we are preventing suffering. For me that would make sense if there were no other alternatives. But there are other options.
Many of the problems of children for which we give them medication can be controlled, even cured by giving them attention in the proper way. Therapy and counseling are especially helpful for treating many emotional problems. ADHD can be treated by training parents as I wrote about in a previous blog. But far more kids get a prescription for a medication than are getting a session with a caring adult.
Yes there are professional counselors and therapists; I do that for a living. But the benefits of other adults in a child’s life should not be underestimated. Teachers, grandparents, natural or foster, and friends all are helpful in a child’s learning emotional regulation. So why do we reach for meds first instead of human contact for all the emotional and behavioral problems?
Some people have suggested that counseling is just too expensive. I am not buying that argument and you won’t either if you see how much agencies are spending on medications.
Despite all the things we have learned over the last couple of centuries about the benefits of counseling in overcoming life’s problems we as a society still seem to think that if something bothers you there should be a drug to fix that.
My conclusion from all this is that a lot of kids and some adults are being given lots of medication instead of human contact. It appears that we as a society and some people individually just don’t care enough to bother with anything more than a pill to make the kid behave.
So what do you think? Could we try another approach? Are kids and adults taking too much psychiatric medication because we don’t care enough to do better?
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.
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