Drug Companies and Children- An Insane World

A British Medical Journal survey of 2002 found that 50% of children were presribed drugs that were unlicensed for use with children. A similar study in American hospitals in 2007 found that nearly 80% of children were prescribed drugs which were not FDA approved. These drugs were not tested on children, and, more worryingly, were not tested for safety in combination with other drugs. It is like assuming that if an adult drinks 10 Budweisers, then a child should be unharmed by one or two, and if an adult parties on Budweiser, wine and whisky, then appropriately smaller doses of the same mix are safe for children – not exactly ‘scientific medicine’, but assumptions profitable to the big pharma companies.

Are parents informed of the possible side effects of untested drugs? Do they seek to enquire, or do not want to know?, being blinded by the perceived advantage of the drug. The question of harmful side effects should be fully explored. Horen’s 2002 study of American paediatric outpatients found a tripling of adverse reactions in those prescribed drugs that were untested on children, when compared with those that were tested.
Are such drugs even needed? The medical profession obviously assumes they are. The ‘attention-deficit disorder’ (ADD) drugs Ritalin and Adderall were prescribed to three million American children in 2012. Adderall is essentially an amphetimine which is used to stimulate the brain. Its (potential) adverse side effects (according to its manufacturer), include slowing of growth, headache, stomach ache, disturbed sleep, decreased appetite, nervousness, dizziness, aggressive behavior, and bipolar illness. Children may also begin to hear voices, become delusional, or become paranoid.

Where America leads, the UK follows: ‘There has been a 50% rise in England in the use of drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in six years. NHS prescriptions for methylphenidate drugs, including Ritalin, rose from 420,000 in 2007 to 657,000 last year, the Care Quality Commission said. The watchdog warned health workers to “carefully monitor” their use as they have the potential to be “abused” (bbc.co.uk, August 2013). This report quoted a consultant psychiatrist, Professor Tim Kendall: “If you take Ritalin for a year, it’s likely to reduce your growth by about three-quarters of an inch. I think there’s also increasing evidence that it precipitates self-harming behaviour in children and in the long term we have absolutely no evidence that the use of of Ritalin reduces the long-term problems associated with ADHD’.

Yet, for many parents, such drugs are vital to their child’s functioning, and they become extremely anxious if they are not prescribed, even though there is convincing evidence that such drugs do not reduce behavioural problems or add to school achievement when given over a prolonged period.  Such a view was given by L. Alan Sroufe (emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development), in an article appearing in the New York Times, 2012: ‘Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs. What gets publicized are short-term results and studies on brain differences among children. This spurred an increase in drug treatment and led many to conclude that the ‘brain deficit’ hypothesis had been confirmed’. What is meant here is ‘attention deficit’ is assumed to be the result of an inherited condition; the brains of children needing drugs are different from those that do not – they have a different brain chemistry. This hypothesis is sacred to the big pharma companies, for it supplies them with a conveyor belt of consumers.

Sroufe put forward the old ‘anti-psychiatry movement’ argument – social causes lead to depression and anxiety, which, in turn, alter brain chemistry: ‘While the technological sophistication of … studies may impress parents and nonprofessionals, they can be misleading. Of course the brains of children with behavior problems will show anomalies on brain scans. It could not be otherwise. Behavior and the brain are intertwined. Depression also waxes and wanes in many people, and as it does so, parallel changes in brain functioning occur, regardless of medication’.
If the theory of different brain chemistry fails to convince everyone, waiverers might be won over by a recent study conducted by Columbia University reserachers (see http://www.drugs.com, November, 2014), which suggests: ‘Pregnant women exposed to air pollution are five times more likely to have children who develop … ADHD’. The causal factor is claimed to be polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This sounds reassuringly ‘scientific’, and may result in pregnant women walking around in masks containing chemical filters, made by the big pharma companies, of course.

In The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness,1960, R. D. Laing noted that a patient with psychosis could be viewed in one of two ways: ‘One may see his behaviour as ‘signs’ of a ‘disease’ (or) one may see his behaviour as expressive of his existence’. For Laing, such as schitzophrenia was not a sign of a physical illness but an understandable reaction to an inescapable and persecutory social order. He believed that society puts stresses on families to make their children conform to social norms and (often academic) expectations, dividing them from their ‘authentic self’, and substituting a ‘false self’ they come to despise. Laing believed that mental illness was a sane response to an insane world.

ADD is placed in the same context by Sroufe: ‘One of the most profound findings in behavioral neuroscience in recent years has been the clear evidence that the developing brain is shaped by experience. Other large-scale epidemiological studies confirm such trends in the general population of disadvantaged children … (and) Plenty of affluent children are also diagnosed with ADD. Behavior problems in children have many possible sources. Among them are family stresses like domestic violence, lack of social support from friends or relatives, chaotic living situations … and a parent (that) taunts or ridicules’.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, gives the parents of children diagnosed with ADD an alternative (pharma-friendly) perspective – parents are not to blame: ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood brain disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity). These symptoms can make it difficult for a child with ADHD to succeed in school, get along with other children or adults, or finish tasks at home’.

It can be seen that children with such a ‘disorder’ experience a wide range of symptoms, from ‘not paying attention’ (ADD – drowsiness, hence the need for amphetemines), to hyperactivity (ADHD), making this ‘disorder’ as inclusive as so-called (bipolar) manic-depression. Either way the big pharma companies win. Although these stimulants act on certain neurotransmitters in children’s brains to make them better focused, the downside of amphetamines is, paradoxically, increased activity, and addiction. They were given to GIs in World War II. to help them combat fatigue and exhaustion, and became notorious as ‘mothers’s little helpers’. Some hyperactive children are, alternatively, prescribed antidepressants, which, in many cases, are also both ineffective and untested on children. The results of drug trials are manipulated so as to deceive parents and doctors, exaggerating the benefits of drugs and suppressing negative information. The prescription of such drugs to children is another exercise in marketing and profiteering. Better that, some think, than face the main causes of children’s anxiety – their stressed-out, taunting and ridiculing family; their disadvantaged family; their insane world.

NIMH reassuringly explain to parents the role of brain structure in their child’s ADHD ‘disorder’ – ‘Brain imaging studies have revealed that, in youth with ADHD, the brain matures in a normal pattern but is delayed, on average, by about 3 years. The delay is most pronounced in brain regions involved in thinking, paying attention, and planning. More recent studies have found that the outermost layer of the brain, the cortex, shows delayed maturation overall, and a brain structure important for proper communications between the two halves of the brain shows an abnormal growth pattern. These delays and abnormalities may underlie the hallmark symptoms of ADHD and help to explain how the disorder may develop. Treatments can relieve many symptoms of ADHD, but there is currently no cure for the disorder. With treatment, most people with ADHD can be successful in school and lead productive lives’ (nimh.nih.gov, 2014). That nothing is mentioned about happy lives is as deafening as it is damning. We live in an insane world, which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

This is the dark heart of the matter. The overuse of prescriptions is linked to perceived improvements in school performance. A recent report (consumer.healthday.com, October 17, 2014) shows Yale School of Management researchers finding: ‘American children’s use of stimulant medications is 30 percent higher during the school year than in the Summer’. Medication is as much about parental anxiety as anything. Children are given drugs by parents as a passport into the debt-ridden world of the graduate, who desperately seeks a graduate-type job, but who may end up flipping burgers. Our insane world bars the use of steroids by adult athletes seeking to boost their performance, but allows the pumping of their mental equivalent into children.

The ‘pushy parent’ syndrome is probably being repeated in Australia. Verity Leatherdale (medicalxpress.com, 2014), reports that: ‘More Australians, particularly children and adolescents, are using psychotropic drugs, a University of Sydney study examining prescribing patterns shows. The study examined trends across a four-year period from the start of 2009. Its results show Australia has one of the highest rates of psychotropic medication use in the world. In addition, very few of these drugs are comprehensively studied for their effects in children and adolescents before coming onto the market’.

R. D. Laing descibed this type of parental pushiness as hate disguised as love, which often leads to mental illness in children attempting to fulfil their parents’ expectations. The child is weaned on amphetamines, fails, and ends up on antidepressants. This is a form of child abuse, aided and abetted by the big pharma companies.
If only we had the big pharma companies to help us back then, you can almost hear past generations sigh. If only they could have helped little Jimmy and Jane to be successful at school and lead productive lives.
Drugs to treat high cholesterol, another condition associated with society, are also widely used on American children. An article (consumerreports.org, 2010) informed: ‘Most statin drugs are FDA-approved for children and teens under age 18, but only if they have a genetic condition that cause extremely high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Yet in 2009, pediatricians wrote children in the U.S. at least 2.8 million prescriptions for drugs to lower cholesterol; nearly 2.3 million of them were for statins … Skyrocketing obesity rates … have more than tripled in the U.S. to 18 percent of the people between 12 and 19 in the last 30 years … There is also concern over the long-term potential risk for children … who use these medications for years or decades, particularly the effects on the developing central nervous system, hormone levels, immune function, and organs. Lipids play a role in brain development, and at least two statins, simvastatin (Zocor and generics) and lovastatin (Altoprev, Mevacor, and generics) can cross the blood-brain barrier and could have a direct and negative impact on such development, according to a recent editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal’.

Where America leads, the UK follows: In 2008, the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) backed the American Academy of Paediatrics, by suggesting that obese children (as young as 8 years old), should receive cholesterol-lowering drugs, despite the lack of information available about the safety of long-term use of these drugs on children.

Pity the child who is both obese and hyperactive. This is not to infer that some children do not benefit from drug therapies, it is to infer that many do not.

Our binge-on-burgers society is as much welcome by the big pharma companies as its parallel one, called stress-your-kids-then-drug-them.

It is our insane world, run for the benefit of corporations, that is sick, and which needs a political enema.
lenin nightingale 2014


One thought on “Drug Companies and Children- An Insane World

  1. 5 December 2014
    Dear Lenin Nightingale
    I entirely agree that drugs can be the cause of many problems.
    Chemical changes in the brain can lead to unknown consequences.
    What is the long-term future for children who have been medicated?
    And what about the food and drink that they consume? What additives are there that change behaviour perhaps?
    Far too little is known of the side-effects of medications I fear.
    Thank you so much for raising these essential points for debate.

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