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"Medicated Child" reaction

January 9, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
I just finished watching "The Medicated Child" (see previous blog, PBS for Parents) and my emotions are running high.

Based on the report that ran last night on PBS's "Frontline," I am angry that doctors are prescribing anti-psychotic medications to children when they don't really know what's wrong with them. One child psychiatrist said he goes by his "best guess" when prescribing meds, and that it's "a gamble."

I'm sure there are some parents who look for a quick diagnosis and meds as Band-Aids for their child's temper tantrums. I also think there are pediatricians and family doctors out there who also are looking for a quick fix -- with limited time windows for office visits and the desire to give answers to distressed parents. In our instant gratification society, that's not a surprise.

But after watching this report, I feel distraught and deeply sympathetic for the families of the children featured. These parents did not seem to be looking for a quick fix for their children's behavioral problems. They seemed only to want what's best for their children. The one family was very conflicted when their 9-year-old was diagnosed bipolar and all they heard was "take meds, take meds, take meds." Another mother was OK with giving her son more and more medications because she truly believed it was helping him. She admitted fearing the long-time effects, but she didn't feel she had a choice. Another mother cried when asked if she thought her 12-year-old daughter would "grow out of" her need for bipolar medications. No, she said; she'll have to be on meds the rest of her life if she wants to go to college, get married, have children. It tore the mother up to face that reality. It tore me up watching it.

I am frustrated that more isn't known about childhood mood disorders, especially bipolar, ADHD and depression. But I was encouraged by the NYU researcher who is calling for pediatric neuroscientists to tackle this problem the way pediatric oncologists did in the 1970s -- sharing information and launching extensive research to take the guesswork out of diagnosis and treatment. According to the NYU guy, pediatric cancer, which used to be a death sentence, now has a 90 percent cure rate.

In the meantime, it's up to parents to be diligent, ask questions, be informed, network with other parents and explore all avenues of treatment they are comfortable pursuing. I have a new understanding of their plight. In many cases, they feel their hands are tied. My heart goes out to them.


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