Kids and brain-altering meds: Doctor says we don't really know long-term effects

Psychiatric meds for kids: Do we know the dangers?

CINCINNATI - It's a potentially dangerous trend. Kids being medicated younger and younger for different psychological disorders.

Yet no one knows the long-term effects of these powerful drugs.

One expert in the field says doctors are pressured to diagnose by insurance companies -- but those diagnoses can often be wrong.

Jennifer Goodin is the mom of 7-year-old Carter. Carter was born with a chromosome anomaly. He's on seizure medication, and has been diagnosed with ADHD.

Look at the other medicines Carter has already tried: Strattera, Adderall, Zoloft, Daytrana, and Intuniv, to name a few.

Doctors started recommending strong prescription meds when Carter was a toddler. Jennifer put them off at first, but eventually complied.

"It's hard because you're giving a child a medicine that you don't really know what it's doing to them," Jennifer said.

The Goodins are one of  many families facing this serious dilemma.

One study shows one in 70 preschoolers is taking a psychiatric drug. Toddlers are being diagnosed with disorders like ADD, ADHD, ODD and bipolar disorder before they can even tie their shoes.

And is that safe?

"It's really kind of unknown if it's safe. I mean, exactly what these medicines are doing in the brain and to the rest of the body as little children develop is not really well studied at all," said psychiatrist Dr. Leslie Hulvershorn.

Doctors at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health are currently studying the effect of the drug Concerta on young brains -- kids 10 to 14 who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Dr. Hulvershorn said she believes that while medications can be extremely helpful for some kids, they can be very dangerous for others.

Her experience tells her young children are being over diagnosed and drugs to treat them are "over prescribed."

"Physicians and other mental health professionals are under pressure to code a diagnosis in order to be able to bill. Families will go from provider to provider and hear different diagnoses because it's just unclear what's going on at that age," Hulvershorn said.

As a general rule Dr. Hulvershorn prescribes to kids only 5 and older. And she cautions against letting kids remain on psychiatric drugs "for years."

She says the biggest problem is finding qualified child psychiatrists experienced in prescribing brain-altering drugs.

"In all of medicine, the biggest shortage of physicians is of child and adolescent psychiatry. And pediatricians are kind of left in the lurch with these kids who need help," Hulvershorn said.

Many doctors are concerned about long-term effects because there's so little research.

Doctors have mentioned questions about everything from brain development to weight gain, which could lead to high cholesterol and diabetes.

They suggest parents always get a second opinion and try therapy first.

Medicate as a last resort, doctors say.

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