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The Happy Tooth
TOO MANY PILLS How Overmedicating Steals Away Childhoods
As a dentist, I learn a lot about patients from the state of their mouths. This sounds a little gross, but it’s true. For example, when a patient suffers from dry mouth, and I can see all the cavities in their teeth as a result, there’s a pretty good chance they’re taking some sort of prescription medication. Nine times out of 10,
“Today, 1/3 of the kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD were diagnosed before they were 5 years old.”
when I review my patient’s medical history later, I’m not surprised to see I’m right. However, I am often surprised to see just how long some of my younger patients have been taking certain medications. The first time I realized one of my 19-year-old patients had been taking ADHD medication since she was 10 years old, I was stunned. One thing America seems to have a problem with is letting kids be kids. As a result, we tend to seriously overmedicate our children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children who have been diagnosed with ADHD undergo behavioral therapy first. However, The Washington Post reports that less than half of these children have even had one session. Meanwhile, 75 percent of these kids are taking drugs to treat their condition. Anne Schuchat, CDC principal deputy director, warns that there is still little research into the long-term effects popular ADHD medications, like Adderall and Ritalin, can have on developing brains. Schuchat stated, “Until we know more, the recommendation is to first refer parents of children under 6 years of age who have ADHD to training and behavior therapy.” Just over a decade ago, doctors hesitated to diagnose children before they entered the second half of elementary school. Today, 1/3 of the kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD were diagnosed before they were 5 years old. This seems so crazy to me! My nephew, Jake, is 4 years old and he is so hyperactive. Once, I called my sister at 9:30 p.m., long after Jake’s bedtime, and he was still wide awake. I could hear Janice trying to put her son to bed, but Jake was just full of energy. When I said goodbye to him over the phone, he started begging me to come “save” him. “No, Auntie, no! I need you!” Poor Janice was exhausted, but that’s how kids are sometimes, right? I can’t imagine a doctor trying to put Jake on medication just because he’s an energetic 4-year-old.
This isn’t to suggest parents who make the difficult decision to put their child on medication are wrong or lazy. The heartbreaking reality is that some children, even very young children, struggle with severe cases of mental illness and need
prescriptions to feel safe and secure. But in the case of ADHD, there is evidence to suggest that adults do a disservice to children by using prescription medications as the first response. Behavioral therapy can take time, but, as the CDC points out, the results can be “longer lasting.” Additionally, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia warns that some of the symptoms commonly misdiagnosed as a sign of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, problems focusing, and difficulty learning, are actually the result of sleep apnea.
Modern medication is able to help address any number of terrible ailments that would have destroyed a person’s life 20 years ago, but it’s important for parents to recognize when the “easy answer” isn’t an answer at all.
–Dr. Justene Doan
August 2018 Edition
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