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Medication Minefield

by PeakCare Qld on 23rd January 2013

Home -> Articles -> 2013 -> January -> Medication Minefield

Back in October 2011 I wrote a blog post called Cheaper to Medicate? In it I discussed the over prescribing of anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications, particularly in children in out of home care.

The use of Ritalin and anti-psychotic drugs has hit the news again in Australia with a recent study finding that teenage boys who spent three years on stimulant medication for ADHD were thinner, shorter and progressed more slowly through puberty. This comes after numerous other studies questioning Ritalin’s effectiveness, side effects and over-use.

The recent study's lead author, Dr Alison Poulton from the University of Sydney has this week been interviewed by the ABC’s Timothy McDonald.

In recent years, there's been a dramatic increase in the number of children being diagnosed with serious psychiatric disorders and many of these young people are being prescribed medications that are just beginning to be tested in children.

These drugs can cause serious side effects, and virtually nothing is known about their long-term impact. American child psychiatrist Dr. Patrick Bacon says “It's really to some extent an experiment, trying medications in these children of this age. It's a gamble and I tell parents there's no way to know what's going to work.”

Some argue that Ritalin and other medications can have benefits for children who suffer ADHD as well as some secondary benefits for their parents, teachers and friends. Reportedly, children often become calmer, more controlled and focused. Some teachers see these as ‘wonder drugs’, but at what price? The most common side effects of these drugs include loss of appetite and difficulty falling asleep. Some children also initially become irritable, teary and withdrawn. While these side effects are manageable, Ritalin and other commonly prescribed anti-psychotic drugs have also been linked to cardiovascular risk as they raise the heart rate and blood pressure. Other dangerous reported side effects are rapid weight gain and metabolic changes that could lead to diabetes, hypertension and other illnesses.

Couple these risks with some evidence suggesting medicated children do not have better academic outcomes than non medicated children and we need to ask some serious questions about these drugs.

The reality is that the long-term effect on the development of the child's brain isn't known. This should be cause for concern. Australia has about 50,000 children taking stimulants for ADHD. In other words, between 1 and 2 per cent of children in Australia take stimulant medications. The number of children in care being prescribed stimulants and other drugs is on the increase and this alarming trend should cause concern. The Youth Affairs Network of Queensland (YANQ) has been long standing advocates in relation to this matter and their recent submission to the Queensland Child Protection Inquiry warrants close attention.

Beyond the concerns raised in YANQ’s submission, there are a number of potential implications for foster and kinship carers, residential care providers and others who are, on a daily basis, charged with the responsibility of administering prescribed medication to children in their care. These are matters that PeakCare intends examining in closer detail and discussing with you in the near future.

In the meantime, you are invited to let us know about any concerns you have about this matter. You can do so either by entering a comment in response to this post or by emailing traby@peakcare.org.au. Your comments will be of great assistance to us in identifying the issues that are of importance to you and that warrant closer examination.

Hopefully, with every new study and through research we can become better informed about the possible short and long term side effects of various medications and better able to make informed judgements about their use and administration.

The only right decision is an informed decision.

Tess Raby. PeakCare Queensland