In a culture of fast food, fast weddings,fast cash, and a generally fast pace, the public’s desire forefficiency and expedience increases proportionally as the number ofminutes between meetings, business lunches, and appointments decreases.Medicine is no different: fast-acting cures for headaches, nasal spraysthat dissolve congestion on contact, and now psychotropic (orbehavior-altering) drugs that treat mental conditions previouslybelieved to require a lifetime of therapy. This type of breakthroughsounds like a miracle, but as the market for cures increases, theconcern for safety decreases. Psychotropic drugs are simplyover-prescribed. Due to a lack of understanding of these drugs and theireffects on children (as well as adults), a guinea-pig “generationRx” is being created.
In a recent government survey,“More than 40 percent of Americans take at least one prescriptiondrug and one in six takes at least three.” Close to half thepopulation is on medication! In 1988, that number was 12 percent. In aUnited Nations’ study, Dr. Hamid Ghodse, president of theU.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board, concluded that“we are medicalizing something that is often not a medicalcondition.” With regard to prescriptions for one common adolescentillness, Ghodse said, “While not wishing to deny the potentialbenefit of treating children with ADHD, it is natural to feel uneasyabout the liberal use of a drug with the specific intention of modifyinga child’s behavior such that he or she becomes more compliant andless troublesome.”
Quite simply, belligerent teens (andpreteens) are being misdiagnosed as having a disorder when theiranti-authoritative or unruly nature could merely be the resultof normal teen behavior as they try to become independent. Likewise,teens who run into peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, and illegal activityare being sent to psychiatrists to be diagnosed with such formerlystigmatized - and now common - conditions like clinical depression andbipolar disorder, when they are in fact simply searching for theiridentity.
Though the use of psychotropic drugs is on the rise,little is known about the mechanisms by which they work or their sideeffects. According to clinical studies on brain chemistry and mentaldevelopment, the brain slows or ceases maturing soon after a steadystream of alien chemicals enter its network. Alcoholics Anonymous usesthis information to remind members of what they have been doing to theirminds and bodies.
Maureen McVaan, head of public relations atthe Parents/Professional Advocacy League branch in Boston - anorganization that advocates for families of children with mental healthissues ranging from ADD to cerebral palsy, says, “The problem isthat doctors and patients simply do not know of these [drugs’]side effects, and more importantly, they do not know of alternatetreatments that can work either in harmony with medication, orcompletely replace the medicating process altogether.” Clinicalpsychologist Denise Chavira, interviewed in Time, agrees, but assertsthat “unfortunately, medical insurance pays more readily for pillsthan other treatments.” Psychotropic drugs, prescribed morereadily than nonpharmaceutical treatments and without properunderstanding, create an unnecessary risk to those who use them thatcould be avoided by alternative treatment.
Finally, since thegovernment does not require drug companies to test the long-term effectsof these drugs before FDA approval, prescription medication can producemental as well as physical addiction. Drugs can be abused by patients aswell as those to whom it is not prescribed, since some are available onthe black market.
Although less serious than physical addiction,mental addiction can be just as much a snare. Mental addiction is whenthe body does not react to the lack of a drug, but the mind becomesdependent on it to function properly. Regardless of the drug of choice,when the mind becomes accustomed to being corrected in a certain way(whether by antidepressants, painkillers, or even mild stimulants likecaffeine), it becomes reliant on that “drug.” With childrenas young as 14 being prescribed antidepressants for seemingly normalbehavior, a kind of soma society is being created in which people arehooked on a medication from the early stages of their lives and, ratherthan needing it to improve their quality of life, they need it just tofunction at a normal level.
In a world bent on efficiency,miracle-drugs that correct seemingly abnormal behavior with a pill ortwo a day seem like a perfect solution, but understanding these drugsand their interactions with the mind is limited, and much more researchis necessary before they can be prescribed safely. The effects ofphysical and mental addiction need to be evaluated before the marketcontinues to grow. Most importantly, these drugs should only beadministered to those who can really benefit. The prescription rate ofthese behavior-altering drugs needs to be curtailed to avoid the risk ofcorrupting a whole generation of children and young adults.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.