U.S. says 'yes' to drugs for kids

Compared to Dutch and German children, American children are three times more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medications such as Ritalin and Prozac for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and bipolar disease, concludes a study published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. Researchers found 6.7 percent of U.S. children were taking psychotropic drugs, compared with 2.9 percent in the Netherlands and 2 percent in Germany. In addition, U.S. children were 1.5 to 2.2 times likelier to use antipsychotic drugs.

There are more child psychiatrists per capita in the U.S. than in Europe and more American children are diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“Direct-to-consumer drug advertising, which is common in the U.S., is also likely to account for some of the differences. The increased use of medication in the U.S. also reflects the individualist and activist therapeutic mentality of U.S. medical culture,” the researchers concluded.

Of course, it’s possible that Dutch and German children are underdiagnosed and undermedicated, but it seems more likely that U.S. children are being drugged without good cause.

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  1. Well, it’s one massive public health experiment, I’ll say that for it.

  2. I don’t know about elsewhere in the country, but in my state, children getting welfare or SSI benefits get more money if they have a diagnosis – including things like ADD, ODD, OCD, any of the psychiatric disorders. Parents then have a financial incentive to get their child diagnosed/treated with meds. Having the diagnosis also increases the age at which payments stop.

  3. timfromtexas says:

    I hope we’ll soon curtail the money, and profit that is made fromm bludgening our children and our youth. We’ll pay dearly for it someday.

    It sure seems we hate our children.

  4. dr. nic

    Your part of the country shouldn’t be much different from other parts of the country, at least as regards SSI. I believe that SSI eligibility is tied to the presence of a disabling condition, which generally has some specifications related to interference with a number of activities of daily living. Deafness and blindness would likely qualify, although I don’t know that anyone has ever blinded their child to up their benefits.

    In my state I am quite certain that the only difference in welfare benefits would be the use of the health card for treatment and medication. Although I have seen family benefits LOWERED if one child received social security benefits from a deceased parent, or if a parent was paying (or ordered to pay) child support.

    As both a social worker and the parent/advocate for a child with a mental health disability I can state that help is pretty thin, I spend far more time and money supporting this child than my non-disabled child and any upsides to having the “diagnosis” come from who he is and the wonderful creativity that is included in that whole package.

  5. In all states, parents can apply for SSI disability benefits for a child with a diagnosis of learning, emotional or behavioral disability (or a physical disability) that interferes with normal activities such as being a student. The parent doesn’t have to show that the child is more costly to raise.

    There have been rumors of low-income parents seeking a non-physical disability diagnosis to qualify their child for benefits. I don’t think there’s proof that this is a significant factor in the rise of diagnoses, however.

    After the age of 18, the ability to work becomes a key “normal activity.” A person may be blind, deaf, paralyzed, etc. but not be eligible for SSI benefits if earning more than a minimum amount, while an unemployed person with a less serious disability may collect benefits. This is an unfortunate disincentive to work for those who have a choice, but it never seems to get fixed.

  6. What I’d like to know are:

    (1) The percentages of kids under the age of 6 who watch significant amounts of television (say >3 hrs/wk) in the U.S. vs. in these European countries.

    (2) The percentage of kids who are placed in group daycare prior to age in the U.S. vs. in these European countries.

    (3) The percentage of kids who attend a play-based kindergarten as opposed to a regimented academic one in the U.S. vs. in these European countries.

    (4) The percentage of kids who get significant exposure (>5 hrs/week) to nature here vs. in these European countries.

    I suspect that the first 3 are much more prevalent here in the U.S. while the latter is more prevalent in Europe. And I furthermore suspect that these differences account for much of the observed differences in ADD.

  7. #2 should read “prior to age 3”.

  8. CW:

    Well, I knocked out the easy one. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (who is actually in the process of posting a new data-base on family issues), in Germany 9% of children under 3 are enrolled in day care. This includes group care centers, registered in-home care or care by a non-family member within the household (I am thinking this means au pair). For the Netherlands, the percentage is 29.5%, identical to that of the United States. Data for pre-school in the 3-5 year old group show that by age 4 both countries exceed the US rate and this continues through age 5 (Ger: 86.7; Neth: 98.4 and US: 77).

    I would be interested in knowing if there is data on any of the other questions, though.

  9. Walter_E_Wallis says:

    Why not just lower the drinking age to ten and have an open bar at school? At least we know the effects of alcohol.

  10. deirdremundy says:

    I’d also like to see data on American kids of Dutch and German ancestry compared to the general American population.

    Maybe ADHD is just less prevalent among certain ethnicities….

  11. If 6% of a population are being treated for the same disease at the same time, usually that would be considered an epidemic. It’s far more likely that ADHD is being overdiagnosed than that it actually occurs at such a high rate.

  12. Reality Czech says:

    Or ADHD is just the tail end of the normal curve.