"Bringing Families Together"

"Bringing Families Together"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Psychologists warn of growing use of psychotropic drugs on children

By Lauren Higgs Thursday, 15 September 2011

Shy children are at risk of being prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs because of a growing tendency to treat behavioural problems with medication, the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) has warned.

Fallon: 'In a society that wants quick results, using drugs to improve behaviour is very tempting'. Image: Brijesh Patel

Speaking at the TUC conference, AEP general secretary Kate Fallon called for an urgent national review into the use of drugs such as Ritalin on school-aged children.

"We are concerned that not enough is known about the long-term effects of such powerful drugs on the development of children’s brains," she said.

"We have received increased numbers of reports from our members that children with behavioural difficulties are being prescribed drugs without full discussion with other professionals to see if other strategies or approaches could be used instead of, or at least alongside, the medication."

Fallon added that plans to adopt a new set of criteria for defining mental illness in the UK in 2013 will lead to many more children being diagnosed as mentally ill on the basis of their behaviour.

"A shy child could be diagnosed with social anxiety; a sad or temporarily withdrawn child could be diagnosed with depression," she said.

"In a society that wants quick results, using drugs to improve behaviour is very tempting. But there can be other ways of improving children’s behaviour that typically involve time and energy from people."

"Simply relying on medication in isolation is no solution; we must foster a more collaborative approach to the treatment of school-aged children with conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)."

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) guidance says psychotropic drugs should not be prescribed to children under the age of six.

But the Department of Health doesn’t collect data on prescriptions of this kind, so there is no national figure on the use of such drugs with children.

"We have evidence that the current guidance is not being followed. For example, children under six are being prescribed the drugs but there is no monitoring of such practice," Fallon said.

She criticised Nice for declining to review its guidance in light of AEP’s findings.

"If we fail to review our practices we run the risk of even more children being prescribed with drugs whose long-term effects are not categorically known to us," she said.

"We run the risk of committing children to long-term drug use and of committing the long-term spending of public money to increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies, public money which could go some way towards funding more adults being available to work directly with children.

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