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The Drugging Of Our Children - Are We Sitting On A Ticking Timebomb?
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For a long time stories have been slipping out of the US about the number of children being given drugs to control such conditions as ADHD and increasingly similar stories are appearing in the UK. One tragic story in the papers this week reports the suicide of a young man called Harry Hucknall was only ten years old when he hung himself in September 2010.

Harry, had been diagnosed with ADHD and was being given both Ritalin and Prozac. As often happens with these stories, when they appear in the papers, it only quoted one perspective of this awful events. In this case it was Harry’s father expressing the horror of what had happened. Having split up from his wife when Harry was three he had not known his son had been prescribed these drugs until his son came to visit and his ex-wife told him about the dose he was given. No one know the rights and wrongs of this tragic case. At the inquest the coroner said that the doctor concerned had acted appropriately, though he did make a comment that doctors should be careful about what they prescribed to young boys.

The tragedy of this story is that it is far from being unique. The Association of Education Psychologists has demanded a national review into the use of Ritalin and other similar drugs on children. According to official figures 661,000 prescriptions are being written annually for Ritalin, which is double the amount prescribed 5 years ago. This is absolutely appalling. You wonder if anyone is really worried about the drugging of our children.

What I find particularly frightening about these figures is that even the medical profession admit that no one knows what the long term effects of these drugs. If that is the case, these are frighteningly large numbers, even more so when you consider some of the medical profession are sceptical about the existence of ADHD anyway. I’m not arguing the rights and wrongs of the diagnosis as I’m not a clinician, but the drugging of our children has surely got to be seen as a last resort?

One of the things that struck me, about the tragedy of Harry Hucknall is how little his father seems to have been informed about possible side effects of the drugs. Now of course Drs should be going through every detail very thoroughly , but my message to parents is don’t leave it up to them. Whatever treatment your child needs, you need to do your homework. I recommend taking the following steps.

Be assertive: This is about your child’s future – so make sure that you can assert yourself. If you’re worried that you may get talked over or not given enough chance to have your say – take someone with you.

Demand a second opinion – I would demand a second opinion as a matter of course, but if you wouldn't normally do that, do it this time. Don't hesitate, especially if they’re suggesting medication is the only way to treat your child. You want to know what the alternatives are. Don't let yourself be coerced into agreeing medication until you're satisfied with the experts response.

Research – Do your own research, so you can ask questions and make your own informed answers. Drs are expert in their fields, but that doesn’t make them perfect. None of this is an exact science so you should be prepared to challenge them.

Investigate alternative treatments – Many professionals believe that with a condition such as ADHD you can make a huge difference with diet, Behavioural Therapy, Behavioural Management or even coaching for kids to tackle self-esteem issues. Investigate the alternative treatments. This is not to say drugs don’t work. It’s so you know what other choices are available.

Ask your child – Don’t just let things be done to children. They often have an amazing capacity to explain what is going on for them, if they’re given the time and space to do so.

Talk to other parents - Find out about other parents or carers experience. Talk to those that have gone the medication route and those that haven’t.

Monitor – Whichever route you do down, it’s absolutely imperative that as a parent or carer you should closely monitor the effect of drugs or any other treatment. Don’t just leave it to the professionals. Keep a proper record of what is going on for your child so you can look for triggers in certain behaviour.

Summary: I believe that there are many hard questions that need to be asked about the drugging of our children. Have we set up a ticking time bomb for untold problems in the future? I don’t know the answer, but I am sure that we should be asking the questions. If you're a parent in this position, do your research, don't make snap positions and remember to assert yourself in finding out what you need to know.

And why do I feel so passionately about this? Well when I was 11 years old. I was on Valium and the Prozac equivalent of the day. I didn’t have ADHD and I was depressed rather than over active, but nothing has convinced me in the intervening years that the decision that grown-ups made for me was the right one to make.

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