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The number of children on Medicaid taking antipsychotic drugs has
tripled in just ten years—and shockingly, many of them are under
the age of three.
Note that these are not just antidepressants, which are bad enough.
We are talking about strong antipsychotic drugs. These are so strong
that many adults stop taking them because of severe side effects.
How can a three-year-old protect himself or herself from the toxic
effects of these drugs on their undeveloped brains and bodies?
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
is launching an investigation into the over-prescription of
antipsychotics to children on Medicaid, and has already asked all
fifty states to provide more oversight of these prescriptions.
Medicaid more than doubled the amount it spent on antipsychotic
drugs between 1999 and 2008 (the last year for which data is available),
and now spends $3.8 billion on antipsychotics, more than any other
class of drugs.
In 2004, a child on Medicaid
was four times more likely to be onantipsychotics than a child with private
insurance. And it’s notjust the older kids: of the 600,000 minors in the
Medicaid programwho were on antipsychotics in 2008, more than half were
under the age of 14.
So far, the HHS probe has found that 482 children under the age of
three were prescribed antipsychotics, and 107 children under the age
of two. Six were under a year old, and one was an infant just one
month old. This is almost unbelievable. Are we still living in the
dark ages that we would do this to a newborn?
Disturbing as this is, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human
Services Commission defended the prescriptions, saying, “For infants,
the drugs aren’t being used for behavior. The infants most often have
seizures or complex health issues like heart and respiratory problems,
and these drugs can be prescribed to help with discomfort.”
Did she say “discomfort?”
Keep in mind that common side effects for one common psychiatric
medication include a shuffling walk, drooling,rapid weight gain, and
the inability to speak. Stopping theantipsychotics often involves a wrenching
withdrawal period of nausea,vomiting, insomnia, tremors, dizziness, and
even hallucinations. It’sa terrifying list even for an adult, and even more so
for the very young children being given these drugs. Over-prescription of these
powerful drugs is a lose-lose situation for both taxpayers and thechildren
who take them.
The antipsychotics used today
are known as second and third generationantipsychotics, and have names
such as Abilify (which is the nation’stop-selling prescription drug), Risperdal,
Seroquel, and Zyprexa. They replaced drugs such as Haldol and Thorazine,
the first generation antipsychotics.
Antipsychotics were originally developed to treat psychoses such as
schizophrenia, but some now have FDA approval for the treatment of
children with bipolar disorder, as well as irritability associated with autism.
However, antipsychotics were never actually tested on children, and
were never intended for long-term use, even in adults.
We reported two years ago about the excessive number of kids in foster
homes Because of the huge number of people on government assistance
who are on these drugs, 70% of the total spent for antipsychotics in
the US is paid by the US government—that is, taxpayers. This is nothing
less than crony capitalism in action: pharmaceutical companies donate
heavily to political campaigns, and legislators pass laws that
compensate them in spades for the amount donated. Those who pay the
real price are the poor and powerless.
Assessing any drug is difficult,
since trials with negative results are often buried and the trial simply
repeated. One study showed that roughly half of all drug trials for
antidepressants had positive results, and half did not. However, 97% of
the positive results were published in peer-reviewed journals, while only
8% of the negativestudies were! A doctor reviewing clinical journals could
easily cometo the conclusion that antidepressants are much more effective
than they are.
In 2012, a judge in Arkansas ordered Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary,
Janssen Pharmaceuticals, to pay more than $1.2 billion in fines for
minimizing the dangers associated with the antipsychotic Risperdal.
Texas settled a case with Janssen for $158 million and a South Carolina
judge fined them $327 million. A Louisiana jury awarded $258 million in
damages. And they are now being sued by Kentucky for concealing the
harmful side effects of Risperdal, which include stroke, diabetes,and
If not antipsychotics, what do these kids need? An integrative physician
who deals with either physical or psychiatric disorders should, of
course, be your first and best resource. And it should go without
saying that all children need a secure, loving home, nutritious meals,
regular exercise, and protection from abuse and other dangers.
Importantly, that also means protection from abuse by the medical
In addition, children at risk for psychiatric problems are good
candidates for a program of omega-3 fatty acids: a study in the
Archives of General Psychiatry found that fish oil supplements beat
mental illness. The study involved eighty-one people deemed to be
at high risk for psychosis. The randomized, placebo-controlled study
provided fish oil supplements to half the study subjects for twelve
weeks; the other half received placebos. Eleven people in the placebo
group developed a psychotic disorder, but only two in the fish oil
But love, nutrition, exercise, security, and fish oil cannot be patented,
eliminating the profit incentive to supply them. By contrast,with Medicaid
laying out $3.8 billion per year on antipsychotics for children, the
motivation to try to control a troubled child with a pill is evidently quite
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