Over 10,000 American Toddlers Are Being Given ADHD Drugs

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Girl looks very upset at the thought of taking her medicine

And once again, our country’s disadvantaged kids are being unnecessarily medicated nearly three times more often.

According to CDC officials, more than 10,000 American toddlers—children who are just 2 or 3 years old—are being medicated for alleged attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

There are few studies on the impact of psychostimulant ADHD drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin) or amphetamines (like Adderall) in children this young. However, we do know that the side effects of ADHD drugs include stunted growth, insomnia, hallucinations, high blood pressure, involuntary movements, aggressive behavior, heart attack, brain hemorrhage, stroke, migraines, and seizures. Emerging evidence also suggests that Ritalin can cause long-term damage to developing prefrontal cortexes, resulting in “rigid behavior, difficulties with multitasking, or problems with short-term memory” later in life.

Technically, there is not even a diagnosis for ADHD in children under 3 years old. In part, this is because “hyperactivity and impulsivity are developmentally appropriate for toddlers”—meaning that we’re medicating kids just for being kids.

Another fact illuminated by the CDC study: toddlers on Medicaid—free or low-cost healthcare provided by the government for low income families—are disproportionately more likely to be prescribed ADHD drugs. The CDC analysis, which studied Medicaid recipients in Georgia and projected the data nationally, found that one in 225 toddlers on Medicaid are being medicated for ADHD. This means at least 10,000 poor kids are being drugged for a medically nonexistent disorder. By way of comparison, only 4,000 toddlers covered by private insurance are being given ADHD meds.

Researchers also found that “effective non-pharmacological treatments,” including providing “a more structured environment” for children, were being ignored.

It’s not just ADHD drugs—here’s what else kids and adults on Medicaid are more likely to be prescribed:

Powerful anti-psychotic medications. Kids on Medicaid are prescribed powerful antipsychotic medications at a rate four times higher than children on private insurance: from 2001 to 2004, 4% of Medicaid kids aged 6 to 17 received anti-psychotic drugs (less than 1% of kids on private insurance did).

Poorer kids are also more likely to be drugged for less severe conditions than middle class kids. For example, while anti-psychotics are intended to treat disorders like schizophrenia, autism, and bipolar disorder, poorer kids are more likely to be prescribed these dangerous meds for ADHD and simple misbehavior. This is called “off label” prescribing: it’s perfectly legal, though there are no long-term studies on the effect of these very dangerous drugs on children when prescribed for less severe conditions.

Antibiotics—for colds. More than half of adult Medicaid patients with colds or respiratory track infections were prescribed antibiotics in 2007—although antibiotics are not recommended in these cases and such inappropriate prescribing directly contributes to the global antibiotics resistance crisis.

Addictive opioids. As we recently reported, one in five pregnant women now take opioid painkillers. What’s worse, women on Medicaid are being prescribed painkillers during pregnancy at much higher rates: 23% of women on Medicaid, compared to 14% of women with private insurance, are being prescribed opioids (Medicaid covers the medical expenses for 45% of American births).

Additionally, a CDC report that analyzed opioid overdose deaths in Washington State from 2004 to 2007 found that 45.4% percent of overdose deaths were among persons enrolled in Medicaid. The overdose death rate was 30.8 per 100,000 people in the Medicaid-enrolled population, and just 4 per 100,000 in the non-Medicaid population.

What’s going on here? Why are our country’s poor so much more likely to be prescribed dangerous drugs?

Over all, research has shown that Medicaid patients don’t fare much better than those without insurance. Here’s why:

  • Medicaid often reimburses doctors much less for non-drug interventions like counseling and therapy than it does for drug prescriptions.
  • Some characteristics of disadvantaged neighborhoods—which form much of the Medicaid population— may contribute to misbehavior in kids. According to Dr. Nancy Rapport, a child psychiatrist who specializes in underprivileged youth, home environments can lead to “symptoms” of ADHD: “In acting out and being hard to control, they’re signaling the chaos in their environment. Of course only some homes are like this—but if you have a family with domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or a parent neglecting a two-year-old, the kid might look impulsive or aggressive. And the parent might just want a quick fix, and the easiest thing to do is medicate. It’s a travesty.”
  • Fewer and fewer doctors will see Medicaid patients, particularly since the Affordable Care Act vastly expanded the Medicaid program. It’s reasonable to assume that the doctors who do accept Medicaid patients have less and less time to spend with their patients, and are thus much more likely to use a “take these drugs and call me in the morning” approach. This is especially true of psychiatrists: a full 56% are not open to seeing new Medicaid patients. Since there can be extremely long wait times for psychiatrists accepting Medicaid, it’s often pediatricians that prescribe the medications. Not only are Medicaid kids not spending enough time with doctors, they’re likely not even seeing the right ones: only one in five children are receiving treatment for emotional and behavior “disorders” from an “appropriately trained professional.”
  • Particularly when Uncle Sam is footing the bill, “selling” cash cow psychiatric drugs to poor kids is a favorite pastime of drug companies. In 2008 alone, psychiatric drugs netted $40.3 billion to Big Pharma; meanwhile, prescriptions for psychiatric drugs for kids rose nearly 45% between 2002 and 2007. In 2009, Pfizer was forced to pay a $2.3 billion settlement for illegally paying 250 child psychiatrists to promote the off-label prescription of Geodon—a powerful antipsychotic—to teens. One doctor was given $4,000 a day to promote its off-label use at conferences to doctors who had no idea he was being paid to do so.

Whatever the reasoning, over-prescription of dangerous drugs to kids—regardless of their socioeconomic status—is killing our children.

Take, for example, the case of four-year-old Rebecca Riley. On December 13, 2006, paramedics arrived at her Massachusetts home to find her slumped over her parents’ bed, dead. Medical examiners identified the cause of death brought on by the medications she was prescribed for ADHD and bipolar disorder when she was just two years old: Depakote, Seoquel, and Clonidine. None of the drugs Rebecca was prescribed are approved by the FDA for use in children her age.

What kind of society treats its children this way? Is nothing more important than drug company profits?

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  • Carla Peele

    How awful! Three or YOUNGER? Oh… no, no, no… that’s just babies being babies! 🙁 So sad… I mean, they get older, in school (definitely past KINDERGARTEN at least) you’ve tried other methods that didn’t work– yes, there’s an option that CAN be helpful to THEM. (And that’s the big point– it needs to be helpful for the CHILD, not a parent who just doesn’t want to deal with a rowdy kid.). But not for a baby!

  • John Harabalya

    Just posted on FB. Thank you, as I post on health news and also have a wellness page. I just posted with disgust on what we are doing to our society and uneducated people not realizing it’s the food, environment and toxic pregnant women. Just watched hours Ty Bollingers mini documentaries on Cancer and always to my best to educate. Thank you, again!!…John

  • Susan Kochan

    I have read a lot of disturbing articlels on the web about how we treat our disadvantaged people in this country, but this….this has brought me to tears! I worked with people, both adult and children alike who live with emotional, intellectual and social disorders. I also had a daughter with severe Panic Disorder. Medication should be the LAST resort of treatment, not the first.
    This pharma companies, lobbyist, congress, and other huge Corporations are running this country, running it right into hell. And they’re starting with our children!!! Most disgusting thing I’ve read in a long time……no, ever! There is plenty of shame and blame to go around. I just want to know, where do we go from here??
    Terribly sad.

  • Sherry

    ADHD are dopamine problems – too much / not enough (along with other proteins). Dopamine has to bind with a thyroid hormone and it is overstimulated by mercury. IODINE FULFILLMENT THERAPY is the old treatment for low thyroid and it detoxes several heavy metals. You will never hear that from a doctor. They don’t know it. The pharmaceutical health schools aren’t going to teach their employees about products and treatments that don’t make alot of money for the Rockefellers. We need to get rid of Mandatory Participation and replace it with Supply and Demand so that we can be in charge, not the investors!!!

  • Jamie

    Too many children are the result of parents desiring increased government benefits from those births. Consequently, I’m not surprised that resulting poor nutrition, lack of proper parental direction and attention results in a child who is insecure and appears to be ADHD. Wouldn’t it be a better solution for these children to be adopted at birth by a loving couple/family that welcomes the child into their lives, not so much for what government money the child can provide but for what the parents can provide that child.

  • Austine Wallace

    There is nothing at all perfectly legal about forcing medication on three year old children. If these parents are so disadvantaged then why would they even agree to pay for these drugs ? There is no such thing as a free ride; and it’s totally pointless psychologically to insist that children are predicted to be problematic because of their ADHD at all. If anything these medications might stunt their growth and their brain development. There is absolutely no legal basis to force these medications on children; or on anybody else for that matter. Medications can have dangerous side-effects and it is entirely a personal preference or choice and people really should know better. They should never yield to public intimidation and social pressure to medicate their own children.

    • Melissa Nunamaker

      Actually, public schools in collusion with child services, can & do force these medications on children and their families. If the child gets worse on the medications, that is somehow the fault of the parents as well and for them to just deal with. I have seen in other families & experienced this many times first hand. It is why our daughter grew more violent, has stunted psycho-emotional development, and is addicted to whatever drugs she can get; and why she can no longer live in our home. . .

  • Dennis Hoppe

    There is a group of people in this world thar wants to cut the world population from 7 billion to 500 million or less. This is not a conspiracy theory.. Google “The Georia Stones” and also Google “Population Control” and read some of the links.

  • This practice of giving these adhd drugs to children of ANY age is terrible.
    These children will be damaged for life, not having the opportunity to develop
    self directing beheviors and good health on their own

  • This is outrages and troubling. I see physicians are prescribing meds more and more readily. I worked in the medical field. And I have ADHD, my son has it and never, ever have we taken medication. Its working on oneself by learning coping techniques and adjustments…I had to read and reread before it would kick in…so what. No one really knew. We will be raising misfits, zombies and children that can not cope by drugging them…yes, it can be an easy way out for a parent that does not want to deal with it, but shame on the parent.

  • alison cline

    It’s all part of the same “programme” , add Common Core to that.

  • Pat Williams

    Many of our children are being poisoned in our foods and environment and then poisoned more by these drugs.

  • Sarah

    When I was younger, I used to take Ritalin. I quit that because I didn’t feel like it did anything help me. When I visited my dad over the summer, I didn’t take Ritalin but maybe a couple of times. He said that when I was off the medication, I seemed more myself but when I was on the medication, I was a completely different person. I didn’t do so well in school when I was on Ritalin either. I felt like I couldn’t concentrate as well. I wish they had come out with this information when I was younger and I wish I was old enough to have understood all of it. Since I have been off it for quite a few years, can there still be any effects from having taken it before? One method to help my hyperactivity was my parents enrolled me in gymnastics and I did summer sport camps. I took that energy and put it to good use. I believe children should not have to rely on medicine to help them focus. It’s hurting them more than helping them.

  • Alys Stuart

    The one aspect I most strongly agree with is that the prescribing of drugs for children lies in the fact that few parents are made aware that children need the time to grow up! The schools are demanding perfect attention from kids who are not yet ready for it. What ever happened to the teachers who could handle children? There were always those who had to sit in the corner or sent to the principal’s office for a talking to. What happened with the parents who were called to school to be advised of their child’s poor behavior? And yes, these parents had to lose “work” time in order to take care of the situation. Then, they definatly attended to the matter!

    Are the reports of the increase in ADHD problems taken from the sale of these medications – or even doctors? We have developed a new strain of doctors known as “Cookbook Doctors” who, when presented with a physical problem, simply go to their “Cookbooks” to look up a prescription. These doctors do NOT take the problem home with them to consider the other possibilities to attend to the condition. Instead, they write prescriptions and are “through” with their work for the day. For four years I have been asking individual doctors what caused a sort of rash on my left leg and cramping under certain conditions. All I ever received was an “I don’t know.” I went through a series of “tests” and still have not received an answer. At the present time, my leg is swollen. Who do I blame for this?

    When I worked as a professional tech writer, often the answer I was looking for occurred during my sleeping time. I would awaken and either write myself a note or go into the office at 5 AM so that I could capture the answer. As with creators throughout history, this occasion was not unusual. Unless one is not truly dedicated, it is impossible to turn off the mind at 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening. Big Pharma and the AMA are now in charge of the medical profession.

  • Alice Moriarty

    About 10 years ago I volunteered at a private church related elementary school to help an 8-year old boy who was in the 1st grade after 3 years in school. He was labeled ADHD and taking Ritalin. He had also been told by his first 1st grade teacher in public school that he was mentally retarded. He was quite irate about this. From my point of view he was definitely not retarded. (His favorite TV channel was “Discovery Channel”) I believe he did have a learning disability but there are other ways of coping with that problem. I found him to be delightful and intelligent. The principal confided that she had 4 children in the school who were on Ritalin. All had the same pediatrician. There were times when “bubbles” of saliva drifted to the corners of his mouth. He mother told me she hated giving the meds to him and wanted to stop but every time she “forgot” to give them, his teachers complained that he was disruptive. I told her I felt as she did but I’ve no training in that field and did not feel competent to discuss it with the school administration but I, personally, would not complain if she stopped medicating him. She did stop and he improved to the point that he graduated from elementary school at about age 14 or 15. Went to high school and graduated at 18 or 19 with a standard diploma. My point is that this particular child was misdiagnosed and certainly, inappropriately medicated. I’ve no doubt this sort of thing is epidemic. It is a completely unnecessary tragedy. This little boy was one of the lucky ones

  • Sandra Tucker

    In the 1990’s physicians where reimbursed at a higher rate if the diagnosis “bi-polar” was involved. Patient’s wait while doctors and staff eat expensive lunches bought by “Big Pharm” representatives. While same reps leave truck loads of freebies of their products saying they do it for poorer patients. Then when we also consider med schools are basically funded by “Big Pharm”, it’s no wonder the people we put our health in their hands aren’t doing us justice.

  • LEH

    For me, this is proof of what I have long suspected: people who can afford medical care get tests and actual diagnosis and people who cannot afford medical care get drugs.

    • Cookiepress

      not necessarily so, even people with health insurance are given unnecessary drugs. 14% of pregnant women are prescribed narcotics for pain during pregnancy and that 14% has insurance of some kind

  • Anja

    Not only toddlers get medicated with this type of drug. My son reports that some of his sophomore friends take Adderall for improved performance at school. One of them apparently had a seizure during PE last week. Would like to know which irresponsible physicians prescribe these meds or happily do so after receiving financial ‘encouragement’s’ from our extremely wealthy Silicon Valley parents.

  • Don Baker

    This is very disturbing. I cannot fathom how either the parents or medical professionals can justify this type of abusive treatment of helpless children. Surely there must be serious and legal consequences for this type of uncaring and immoral behavior.

  • LIsa Pavlock

    Whatever the reasoning, over-prescription of dangerous drugs to kids—regardless of their socioeconomic status—is killing our children. Please stop this.

  • Nancy Donaldson

    My hyper son was prescribed Ritalin when about 6 yrs old by a Neurologist based on a eeg.
    He went from hyper happy smart to Crying all the time & almost non functioning. I took him off drug myself and Never consulted doctor again. Decided i’d much rather deal with him the happy hyper way he was. He is adult now, gifted, high functioning doing well for sure. School was difficult as he was hyper, bored as he was smart & learned quickly so tough on teachers .
    A friend of his 2 years older was on Ritalin and committed SUICIDE when just 14 yrs old.
    I tend to believe its the parents that need Help , time and love to help these kids who often are quite normal (?) And need a bit of counsel or brains to love these kids through it.

  • Susan

    Maybe being a sue happy society in this case is appropriate. Why are we allowing pharma companies and doctors to get away with this? Do we currently have any large law suits going on in re. to the above mentioned travesty(ies)? Perhaps those monies can go toward further public awareness, education of the general public and actual Dr. visits for children in need? Just imagine how far a million dollars could toward real doctors, real solutions; such as getting thie attention children need, good nutrition, and exercise and learning healthy life style habits. Additionally, why isnt sugar consumption also being mentioned? Sugar in yogurt, high doses in pop and candy, caffeine drinks (for people with fibrocystic breast tissue this is dangerous), and what are the long term affects (for children and adults)
    Boycotting companies and picketing are both effective meathods to raise public wareness as is/ are advertising campaigns in papers, on line, and signage.

    • Lisa Ostendorf

      If you have fibrocystic breast disease or know someone who does, it is completely curable/reversable with
      appropriate doses of iodine. The whole scoop is in Dr. David Brownstein’s, “Iodine – Why You Need it, and Why You Can’t Live Without It.”

  • Connie Dotson

    Dont give toddlers any AHAD medicines! Inform FDA something is wrong with medicines. Stop it please!

  • Marcella

    Psychopharmaceutical threats to children is a subject I have personally researched for nearly 20 years. It is time to end the sickening practice of drugging children simply for the mere fact that they are children.

    The FDA/government/powers that be need to cut their ties with Big Pharma, the American Psychiatric Association and all those numerous agencies with acronyms attached to them … if one researches enough, one will find an alarming number of conflicts of interest … it’s all about the money.

    ADHD is a bogus disorder (it cannot be called a disease because no pathology exists); it was voted on for inclusion in the DSM and has never been scientifically proven to exist. The “experts” will claim that they “believe” ADHD is this or that but the bottom line is that the theories they claim to be fact are pure conjecture.

    The drugging of our children has become much too commonplace and it is these medications that are the cause of recent shootings, not the supposed mental illnesses that these individuals suffered from. We cringe when we hear of third world countries and how they treat their children yet what takes place here in America re: these dangerous psychotropic medications is just as bad. It is criminal and needs to stop.

  • Elena

    This is positively shameful and to answer your question, apparently, NOTHING is more important than drug company profits. As long as politicians are in Big Pharma’s back pocket, nothing is going to change. I had a doctor tell me on Monday not to trust natural products such as krill oil or coconut oil because they haven’t been thoroughly evaluated by the FDA (as if the FDA is going to protect ME) yet he wanted me to take a medication that wasn’t really needed. It was “just in case” I needed it.

    BTW, I have a daughter whose boyfriend died at the age of 13. Just dropped dead after racing with his friends. He was an athlete and loved Karate. During the autopsy, it was discovered that he had significant heart damage due to his ADHD medicine that he had taken for years. His younger sister was currently taking the same medicine and the parents stopped that immediately. Still, it won’t bring their son back. It’s all such a waste.

    • Lisa Ostendorf

      Can you tell me what medication this was? I have not heard of this side effect of ADHD drugs. They are being touted as perfectly safe with only minor side effects and that the focus the kids get is worth any
      side effects they cause. This kind of information needs to be mainstreamed!!!

  • C. Davidson

    although I usually LOVE and appreciate everything in this newsletter, as a mother of a child with autism, who, by the way, is improving dramatically on natural, biomedical treatments for his MEDICALLY BASED condition, I feel it necessary to comment on a glaring error in this article. Anti-psychotic drugs were NEVER ‘intended’ to treat autism. They too are being prescribed ‘off label’ and are very harmful to our children, not mention inappropriate. Autism is a medical condition, NOT a psychiatric disorder and the vast majority of mainstream medicine has yet to acknowledge this. As is usual, they just throw Rx drugs at conditions they don’t bother to understand. Beyond sad… its criminal!

  • Ace Strife

    I was given drugs to ‘pay attention’ in school per the school’s recommendation.

    A few years went by before my parents finally took me off.

    As an adult, I’m now without any sort of creativity. I cannot design things, I cannot imagine things, I cannot write things.

    I wanted to be a game designer and an artist. I can’t be anymore.

    I never want to see the same thing happen to other people; but unfortunately so long as corporations and agencies like the FDA exist, things will never, ever change, at least here in the US.

  • Gertrude “Trudy”

    They should rule out all other possible causes first. ADD/ADHD-type behavior could be due to build up of heavy metals from vaccines, or from polluted water & soils, unsealed-cellar mold, or leaky gut from die-off of digestive bacteria due to chlorine/fluorine in drinking water/bath water/swimming-pool, or from fluorinated toothpaste/mouthwash/hand soaps, or just plain gluten or other food sensitivity, as happened to my grandson.
    From other sources, I gather it may be useful to try a no-side-effect heavy-metal intracellular chelation supplement such as Advanced Bionutritionals’ PectaSol, etc (there are several brands from several companies). Organic food habits alone won’t prevent toxic heavy-metal build-up and leaky gut, as our family’s experience showed. Not unless all your food is grown at least one mile from the nearest car exhaust–including your own car. And unless you never breathe any air within a mile of neighbors or coworkers with cars. As to why some kids are more sensitive to foods, lectins, pollution, metals, than others–the fact is that they are, and they need our help to get around it. Worked for us just to eliminate high-lectin (ie, hybrid) wheat, rices, potatoes, tomatoes, dairy from the dinner table. But the number of food allergies is increasing rapidly in my grandchildren, and nobody has answers why the expansion of skin reactions to foods formerly on the “safe” list. Or why each younger child (none of whom were vaccinated), develops allergies to ever more avoidance-list foods than each older sibling. New allergies erupt all the time. I have no answers, and hope someone else may provide some.

  • My grandson (now 13) was a healthy, normal 3 or 4 year old. At a regular doctor visit at that time, his doctor gave him 5 (that’s FIVE) vaccination shots in ONE visit. It totally changed him. It was like a different child. He is now diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I believe he was filled with excessive mercury that damaged his brain. Is there a way to change him? I pray every day to God to do so. The companies, government agencies and anyone else responsible for destroying our youth, most likely for the money involved, need to be deported–at the least. They will answer to God some day.
    Look at all the stabbings, bullying, nastiness going on in schools today. I blame medications needlessly being given to children. (I might add adults also — look at the shopping mall attacks, and the amount of suicides.)

  • Barbara Talbert

    More attention should be paid to the chelator glyphosate which is used as weed control and to the chitin (from pulverized crab and lobster shells) that the weed killer is pelleted with. Chel is a prefix meaning “claw” and claw it does at many of the good metals in the soil that we need in our bodies. Once in our body it claws out and sequesters metals and deposits them in places that we are not aware of, many times in unusable form. Chitin and glyphosate should never have been made ubiquitous in human environments.

  • Jenn

    This is exactly why I use Truehope products for mine and my son’s ADHD. It is natural, it works and it has 25 medical journal studies on bipolar, depression, ADHD and anxiety as well as OCD.