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Psychiatric Cocktails for Youth

October 12, 2012

“After you get them on one drug, parents don’t seem to mind the second.”


The article I choose examined the growing number of children and teenagers who are being prescribed multiple, and often life threatening, psychiatric drugs despite scientific evidence that “drug cocktails” of three or more have little to no effect on treating symptoms.  In 2005 nearly 1.6 million children and teenagers ,280,000 of them under age 10, were prescribed at least two psychiatric drugs, more than 500,000 were given at least three psychiatric drugs, and upwards of 160,000 were approved for at least four. Despite these numbers only a few studies have shown improvement taking no more than two psychiatric drugs in adults and that the evidence of the improvement for children is practically non-existent. One review done by The American Journal of Psychiatry found only six controlled trials of two-drug combinations. Out of the six trials four failed to show any benefit and the fifth trial’s success was offset by the severe side effects.  What was even more disconcerting, at the time this article was written, was there was no scientific evidence that combining three or more psychiatric drugs was helpful or even appropriate for adults let alone children. Yet, even without the evidence some psychiatrists believe in the effectiveness of the drug combinations.  In reference to how doctors prescribe multiple prescriptions to treat diseases such as cancer and AIDS, Dr. Joseph Biederman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, states ““Child psychiatry is not any different; these drugs have revolutionized how we treat severe psychopathology in children.”

For many parents dealing with children with mental illness the lack of evidence combined with the diagnosis by psychiatrist puts parents in a moral bind when deciding what is best for their child. Almost every parent interviewed in this article said the prescription cocktails helped stabilize their children’s symptoms but sometimes with drastic side effects. The multiple prescriptions can combine a number of different stimulants, anti-depressants, anti-consultants, and a range of other anti-psychotic medication. The side effects can range from liver and pancreas damage, fatal skin rashes, suicidal thought, diabetes, irreversible tics, lethargic and countless more. Many of the children in this article experience drastic weight gain to the point of obesity and weight loss to the point of being under height for their age range.  However, some parent’s testimonies of their children’s “drastic” improvement in behavior on multiple medications seem to make the risk worthwhile. Other families are not as lucky as misdiagnosis and on and off again treatment options can increase behavioral problems and in some cases it takes years of mixing and matching prescriptions to find the perfect combination.

With so little research done on the effectiveness multiple drug combinations the 1.6million youth being prescribed multiple psychiatric drugs seems astounding.  With the growing number of prescription drugs such as Prozac it appears seeking treatment for mental illness is becoming more and more acceptable in our society but with such increase should also come great caution. Children’s hyper activity has gone from excuses like too much sugar to a symptom in need of correction and medication.  It is true that many children are severely mental ill and require a multiple prescriptions to stabilize their behavior but the lines between personality characteristics and symptoms are starting to blur into a gray area.  When does a child’s defiant behavior stop being bad parenting and start being a mental illness? Is she just shy or have a social anxiety disorder?  At what point do a three year old girl’s tantrums turn into the need for two anti-psychotics and sleep aids?   Many parents get finical help from the government to cover the cost of their child’s multiple prescriptions yet in some cases the F. D. A warns against the use of some of those prescriptions on children. As the acceptance of treating mental illness grows so does the ability to question what is “normal behavior” and what  behaviors are “symptoms”. With the growing number of youth being prescribed multiple medications that are possibly life threatening, it is imperative that not only scientific studies tackle the effectiveness of these medications but also how we define and examine the symptoms,causes, and treatments of mental illness should be evolving as well.

Kelly Cogburn

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 12, 2012 10:27 pm

    I think it’s really sad the way society is framing “parenting”. If your child is acting out of sorts, your a bad parent! if you try to discipline your child, your a bad parent! if you go with the doctors advise and medicate your child, your a bad parent! Parents these days are expected to be all things; they hold jobs, try to advance their career’s in school, maintain homes… the list goes on. In the midst of the craziness that is parenting parents are expected to know everything all of the time. The problem is that until we lay off of parents and stop making them feel so insecure about their parenting, they wont stop looking for a solution to these “problems” that are really normal child like behavior to begin with.
    -Rebecca Coon

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