Treating babies with stimulants is reckless

How crazy is it to drug babies?

It was shocking enough to discover that 20% of teenage boys get labelled as having ADHD, and 10% are on stimulant medications for it.  That 11% of all kids aged 4-18 get the diagnosis of ADHD, and 6% the drugs.  That stimulant prescriptions and pharma profits are skyrocketing all around the world.  And that ADHD guidelines encourage making the diagnosis and starting the drugs in kids as young as four.

Then it got worse. An adventurous group of cowboy child psychologists invented a new and untested diagnostic category (with the ridiculous name, “sluggish cognitive tempo’”) that would be a wonderful target for additional inappropriate stimulant use.

It is also particularly outrageous that so many of the thought leaders promoting the excessive use of stimulants have such close ties with pharma. Honor dies where conflict of interest lies. But the latest news tops all in raw shock value. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention has just estimated that 10,000 U.S. toddlers, aged 2-3, are being given stimulant drugs for behaviors that have been mislabeled as ADHD. This falls outside the already overly inclusive guidelines that start kids at the too early age of four.

Treating babies with stimulants is based on no research, is reckless, and takes no account of the possible harmful long-term effects of bathing baby brains with powerful neurotransmitter drugs.

Many people thought I was being overly optimistic when recently I predicted that the ADHD fad had finally peaked and that we would gradually return to more appropriate levels of diagnosis (perhaps the previous 3% instead of the current 11%). My optimistic prediction was not based on naivete about pharma greed or physician carelessness. My hopes rested on the possibility that there would be a backlash of parental and professional protest as it becomes clearer and clearer how absurdly overused is the ADHD diagnosis and the stimulant medication.

The CDC report will certainly fuel that outrage and help stimulate a backlash, but at what price to the babies?

Allen Frances is a psychiatrist and professor emeritus, Duke University.  He blogs at the Huffington Post.

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