More Kids Receiving Psychiatric Drugs

In the January 14, 2003 issue of the Washington Post is a news story that reported the results of a study done at the University of Maryland in Baltimore on the drastic increase in psychiatric drug use in children. The study, which evaluated 900,000 children on Medicaid in a Midwest state, showed that more than 6 percent of children were taking drugs such as Prozac, Ritalin and Risperdal.

This means that the number of American children being treated with psychiatric drugs has grown sharply in the past 15 years, tripling from 1987 to 1996 with no sign of slowing. The authors of the study said they fear that cost-saving techniques by insurance companies, marketing by the pharmaceutical industry and increased demands on parents and doctors may be driving the increase.

In response to the study, Michael Jellinek, chief of child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, said, "There are fewer options other than medication." He noted that insurers have increased their profits by decreasing the use of psychotherapy, which is more expensive than drugs in the short term. He continued, "The insurance system gave an incentive for medications and a disincentive for therapy."

Julie Zito, lead author and researcher at the University of Maryland, points out, "Other than zonking you, we don't know that behavioral management by drug control is the way to learn to behave properly. If we are using drugs to control behavior, that doesn't change the underlying problem if someone doesn't know how to get along with their peers."

"The medicine may help the symptoms but not address issues of self-esteem, interpersonal relationships and family relationships, all of which are part of recovery," said Jellinek, who analyzed Zito's study. He continued, "You can get a lot of benefit from behavioral treatments. If someone is getting medicines for obsessive-compulsive disorder, I would like to see them be given a trial of behavioral therapy to see if that helps them and maybe decrease the medication."