Are we over-prescribing our kids?

American children are prescribed psychiatric drugs three times more often than European children. Could it be that American children are more unhappy, depressed or hyperactive than European children? This explanation seems entirely implausible.

I believe in modern psychiatry and mental health care practices and I am not suggesting that medications are not needed in many instances. Rather, I am curious as to why so many American youth are taking psychiatric medications when compared to other wealthy, developed nations.

Between 1996 and 2006, the use of psychiatric drugs for children increased by 50 percent according to the Journal of Health Affairs. In 2009, the U.S. Agency for Health Care Research and Quality reported that more money was spent on treating mental disorders in children aged 0-17 than for any other medical condition. This is a new and surprising finding as this age group has high rates of fractures, sprains, burns and lacerations as they encounter their physical world in a variety of firsts.

In 2008, psychiatric drug sales in the U.S. exceeded 40 billion dollars. Many of these profits were based on drugs that address children's issues. The drugs Ritalin and Prozac are used to treat depression and Attention Deficit Disorder and have created huge profits for drug companies. Some European countries have banned stimulant based drugs like Ritalin for use with children as they believe stimulant based drugs unsafe for everyone and especially children.

Maryland Professor Julie Zito led a study that found that "American and European differences might be explained in a variety of ways. Americans are much more exposed to corporate drug advertising, see more specialists and are more likely to turn to drugs to solve their problems."

Dr. David Katz of the Yale University School of Medicine explained that, "The U.S. has a sick care system rather than a health care system. The U.S focuses more on drugs and procedures for diagnosed conditions."

I want to stress that I am not an expert on the issue of prescription drug use for children with emotional or psychiatric disorders. A doctor and or a mental health professional always know what is best for children facing these challenges. Perhaps it is a subject that deserves closer examination by everyone. Remember, all kids count.

Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at hurlburt@wildblue.net

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