"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The New and Improved Doping of Children

The drug companies have found a whole new market for their anti-psychotic catalog of goodies: schoolchildren. If Ritalin was not enough to tame the child bored blind by schools that impose psychic straightjackets, get the doc to call it bi-polar disorder and put them on Seroquel.

And, of course, the drug advertisers and manufacturers are leading the charge in this latest manifestation of consumer capitalism gone berserk. From the New York Times:

. . . .Some experts say greater awareness, reflected in the increasing diagnoses, is letting youngsters with the disorder obtain the treatment they need.

Other experts say bipolar disorder is overdiagnosed. The term, the critics say, has become a catchall applied to almost any explosive, aggressive child.

After children are classified, the experts add, they are treated with powerful psychiatric drugs that have few proven benefits in children and potentially serious side effects like rapid weight gain.

In the study, researchers from New York, Maryland and Madrid analyzed a National Center for Health Statistics survey of office visits that focused on doctors in private or group practices. The researchers calculated the number of visits in which doctors recorded diagnoses of bipolar disorder and found that they increased, from 20,000 in 1994 to 800,000 in 2003, about 1 percent of the population under age 20.

The spread of the diagnosis is a boon to drug makers, some psychiatrists point out, because treatments typically include medications that can be three to five times more expensive than those for other disorders like depression or anxiety.

“I think the increase shows that the field is maturing when it comes to recognizing pediatric bipolar disorder, but the tremendous controversy reflects the fact that we haven’t matured enough,” said Dr. John March, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Duke University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research.

“From a developmental point of view,” Dr. March said, “we simply don’t know how accurately we can diagnose bipolar disorder or whether those diagnosed at age 5 or 6 or 7 will grow up to be adults with the illness. The label may or may not reflect reality.”

Most children who qualify for the diagnosis do not proceed to develop the classic features of adult bipolar disorder like mania, researchers have found. They are far more likely to become depressed.

Dr. Mani Pavuluri, director of the pediatric mood disorders program at the University of Illinois, Chicago, said the label was often better than any of the other diagnoses often given to difficult children.

“These are kids that have rage, anger, bubbling emotions that are just intolerable for them,” Dr. Pavuluri said, “and it is good that this is finally being recognized as part of a single disorder.”

The senior author of the study, Dr. Mark Olfson of the New York State Psychiatric Institute at the Columbia University Medical Center, said, “I have been studying trends in mental health services for some time, and this finding really stands out as one of the most striking increases in this short a time.”

The increase makes bipolar disorder more common among children than clinical depression, the authors said. Psychiatrists made almost 90 percent of the diagnoses, and two-thirds of the young patients were boys, said the study, published in the September issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry.

About half the patients were identified as having other mental difficulties, mostly attention deficit disorder.

The children’s treatments almost always included medication. About half received antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal from Janssen or Seroquel from Astrazeneca, both developed to treat schizophrenia.

A third were prescribed so-called mood stabilizers, most often the epilepsy drug Depakote. Antidepressants and stimulants were also common.

Most children took a combination of two or more drugs, and 4 in 10 received psychotherapy.

The regimens were similar to those of a group of adults with bipolar diagnoses, the study found.

“You get the sense looking at the data that doctors are generalizing from the adult literature and applying the same principles to children,” Dr. Olfson said.

The increased children’s diagnoses reflect several factors, experts say. Symptoms appear earlier in life than previously thought, in teenagers and young children who later develop the full-scale disorder, recent studies suggest.

The label also gives doctors and desperate parents a quick way to try to manage children’s rages and outbursts in an era when long-term psychotherapy and hospital care are less accessible, they say.

In addition, drug makers and company-sponsored psychiatrists have been encouraging doctors to look for the disorder since several drugs were approved to treat it in adults.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved one of the medications, Risperdal, to treat bipolar in children. Experts say they expect that move will increase the use of Risperdal and similar drugs for young people.

“We are just inundated with stuff from drug companies, publications, throwaways, that tell us six ways from Sunday that, Oh my God, we’re missing bipolar,” said Dr. Gabrielle Carlson, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine on Long Island. “And if you’re a parent with a difficult child, you go online, and there’s a Web site for bipolar, and you think: ‘Thank God, I’ve found a diagnosis. I’ve found a home.’ ” . . . .

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