Herald Sun

Children raised on mood drugs

By EVONNE BARRY, health reporter
Herald Sun (Australia)

AUSTRALIAN children are being raised on adult drugs that temper their moods and minds.

A national survey has revealed children as young as three are being medicated for conditions such as anxiety, aggression, hyperactivity and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The study of 70 per cent of Australia's pediatricians and child psychiatrists also found that:

THE prescription of anti-depressants and Prozac-like drugs for children is increasing.

A "POLYPHARMACY" culture means children are being given more than one medication at once.

PARENTS are administering non-stimulant drugs without medical advice.

Report author Dr Daryl Efron, a Royal Children's Hospital pediatrician, said the study findings were expected, but worrying.

"The concern is that many of the medications that are being prescribed at the moment have not been properly researched in children," he said.

The use of stimulants Ritalin and dexamphetamine to treat Attention Deficit Disorder has plateaued after peaking in the mid-90s.

Dr Efron said this was Australia's first study into the prescription of non-stimulant medications, such as anti-depressants.

"We know that these medications are being used quite a bit for severe behavioural problems," said Dr Efron, a member of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Centre for Community Child Health.

Of the 622 doctors surveyed, 8 per cent had prescribed Ritalin, dexamphetamine, or clonidine, a non-stimulant, for children under the age of three.

Dr Efron believes societal pressures are partly to blame for the trend, which first became evident in the US.

He said weak family and community support networks had unfortunate consequences for "biologically vulnerable" children.

"They (parents) are turning to doctors when they might have turned to extended family," he said.

He said there was no sign of irresponsible prescribing, but he had anecdotal evidence of parents giving their children clonidine without medical advice.

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© 2002 Herald and Weekly Times