Originally created 05/19/00

Pill-popping kids



Parents should think long and hard before allowing doctors to prescribe mood-altering drugs like Ritalin or Prozac to their children.

As Sunday's Page 1 Chronicle story on Ritalin use explained, such drugs are being increasingly given to America's young, and the willingness to use medication is changing the way we think about what constitutes normal childhood behavior. In fact, we may be drugging the childhood out of our children.

The issue of "better pupils through pill-popping" is no small matter in this country. The use of mood-stabilizing drugs to treat children under 18 is up 4,000 percent during the past four years alone. Some 5 million children, many as young as 3, are on Ritalin in this country.

This raises questions:

Are hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorders unique to American culture or are we just not as tolerant as we used to be about what it means to be a child?

Why, all of a sudden, are so many kids being diagnosed with hyperactivity, attention-deficit disorder or a host of other behavioral conditions?

Is hyperactivity more than simply an abundance of energy? Is attention-deficit disorder more than just a short attention span? Are normal childhood behaviors being misdiagnosed as problem behaviors?

Let's not forget the state of being exuberant and easily distracted is part of what it means to be a child. Drugs take the extreme end of these behaviors and bring children into the acceptable middle range, leaving us to wonder: "acceptable, according to who?"

The greater Augusta area reflects national trends, with between three and four percent of schoolchildren now taking Ritalin to control these difficult-to-diagnose conditions.

There are children who truly benefit from Ritalin and the drug works miracles for some who have serious behavioral problems. But parents and doctors should proceed carefully.

The National Institute of Mental Health will study Ritalin use among preschoolers to determine if the drug is being over-prescribed. That will be an important study. In the meantime, parents should exercise caution when told their children should be medicated. Get a second opinion and remember: Childhood is not a pathological condition. We must guard against treating it as one.