Sunday, August 8, 2010

Are Teens Overmedicated?

It is summer camp season for kids and well run camps require a medical history and record of prescription medications that the child is taking.  One prestigious camp for teens (ages 11 to 19 - average camper is 16) in Southern California had 153 residential teenagers last week.  These kids come from California and other states across the U.S.  Fifty percent come from out of state and a number of campers each week are international.  OK, so far so good.  Healthy teens getting together for a week of learning and fun.   Here is the shocker!

I was amazed to learn that almost 25% of these kids are on prescription medication.  Can it be that we are over medicating teens?

I am not counting birth control pills in this count. (All sexually active teens should be on the pill or another reliable form of birth control).  I'm also leaving out medication for asthma, allergies, or acne. The medications that 23% of the teens took were:
  • Adderal
  • Acyclovir
  • Ambien
  • Fluoxetine
  • Lamictal
  • Lexapro
  • Naprosyn
  • Prozac
  • Strattera
  • Vyvanse
  • Zoloft
I don't know the medical history of these kids but at first glance that seems excessive.  I know that certain disorders are serious and can respond to medication.  For serious psychiatric conditions it can be life-saving.  But those conditions are not the norm. Many of these drugs are used for ADHD or anxiety disorders.  The sheer number of meds in those categories is alarming.  Parents and physicians need to question if we are trying to make our children fit a certain mold.  Are we less accepting of diverse personalities and behavior? 

I fear the pendulum for using pharmaceutical medications to treat teen angst or teen hyperactivity may have swung way too far.

Being a teenager is one big mood disorder.  It doesn't need to be medicated away.

18 comments:

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

Do you think that this phenomenon could be more common in California than elsewhere?

Toni Brayer, MD said...

Michael Kirsch, MD: About 50% of the campers are from other states but I don't know the breakdown of who had the prescriptions. I do not know but I doubt it is a California phenomenon.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

You know, of course, that California has a reputation! You might be getting Governor 'Moonbeam' again!!

Kathleen Summers, MD, PhD said...

Thanks for posting this. It's a disturbing trend, not only over-medication of teens, but of smaller children and even adults, too. The pharmaceutical companies are making money and doctors and patients get to feel like they're "doing something" but what are we really doing to people in the long run? My pharmacology professor used to say that there are two things that every drug does to the body: the things we know about and the things we don't - and for every thing we know we are doing to tweak physiology, they are likely ten things we are doing to tweak the system that we don't even know or begin to understand.

KM said...

I have heard that kids are not supposed be prescribed prozac because it can raise their risk of suicide and it is only supposed to be given to adults.
There was a case I know of where a teen was depressed because of parents getting divorced and was taken to a psychiatrist who prescribed prozac but the psycharist went away on vacation and didn't have any counseling set up for the teen or over see and monitor the prozac, and do therapy and the kid used a gun but was unsuccessful at a suicide attempt and now lives with a severely damaged face and head, causing disability.

tracy said...

If i had been diagnosed AND medicated as a teen, maybe i wouldn't be in the shape i am today.....

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