In May 2014, The New York Times disclosed that more than 10,000 American toddlers 2 or 3 years old are being medicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder outside established pediatric guidelines. The article, “Thousands of Toddlers Are Medicated for A.D.H.D., Report Finds, Raising Worries,” drew from information from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, which found that toddlers covered by Medicaid are particularly prone to be put on medication such as Ritalin and Adderall.
The American Academy of Pediatrics standard practice guidelines for A.D.H.D. do not even address the diagnosis in children 3 and younger — let alone the use of such stimulant medications,
Even more disturbing, the mental health watchdog, Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) reports, according to data provided by IMS Health, the world’s leading health information and analytics company, hundreds of thousands of toddlers are being prescribed far more powerful psychiatric drugs than just ADHD drugs, and most alarming of all is the more than 274,000 0-1 year olds prescribed psychiatric drugs.
According to IMS Health’s Vector One: National and Total Patient Tracker Database for 2013 these are the figures for 0-1 year olds being prescribed psychiatric drugs:
- 249,669 0-1 year olds are on anti-anxiety drugs (such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan).
- 26,406 0-1 year olds are on antidepressants (such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil).
- There are 1,422 0-1 year olds taking ADHD drugs (such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta).
- 654 0-1 year olds are taking antipsychotics (such as Risperdal, Seroquel, and Zyprexa).
While the CDC was correct in issuing their report on the 10,000 2-3 year olds (toddlers) being prescribed ADHD drugs, the number of toddlers on anti-anxiety and antidepressants is staggering in comparison:
- 318,997 2-3 year olds are on anti-anxiety drugs.
- 46,102 2-3 year olds are on antidepressants.
- 3,760 2-3 year olds are taking antipsychotics.
“What’s not known about the long-term effects is very troubling,” said Christopher Bellonci, M.D., assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. “The younger you go, the more you can affect the developing brain.”
Consumer Reports noted: An analysis found that antipsychotic prescriptions for children age 2 to 5 doubled between 2001 and 2007. Most of the children were 4- and 5-year-old boys, with ADHD and disruptive behavior disorder among the most frequent diagnoses.
Antipsychotics have become huge moneymakers for the drug industry. In 2003, annual U.S. sales of the drugs were estimated at $2.8 billion; by 2011, that number had risen to $18.2 billion. That huge growth was driven in part by one company—Janssen Pharmaceuticals— and its aggressive promotion of off-label uses in children and elderly patients, relying on marketing tactics that according to the federal government, crossed legal and ethical lines.
In 2011, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed thousands of foster children were being prescribed psychiatric medications at doses higher than the maximum levels approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The GAO found foster children were prescribed psychotropic drugs at rates up to nearly five times higher than non-foster children.
For the most vulnerable foster children, those less than 1 year old, foster children were nearly twice as likely to be prescribed a psychiatric drug compared to non-foster children.
When Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., lead requestor of the GAO report, first learned of the report’s findings, he said, “I was almost despondent to believe that the kids under the age of one, babies under the age of one were receiving this kind of medication.”
IMS, Vector One: National (VONA) and Total Patient Tracker (TPT) Database, Year 2013, Data extracted April 2014, for all Psychiatric Drugs and Per Class for Ages 0-17.