To Your Health
October, 2007 (Vol. 01, Issue 10)
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Earlier this year, the FDA proposed that drug companies update the warning on all antidepressant product labels to include warnings about increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in young adults (ages 18-24) during the first few months of treatment.

If all this isn't enough, an article in the December 2003 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, a publication of Harvard Medical School, emphasized the potential dangers of prescribing antidepressant medication to children: "The rule is caution in prescribing antidepressants for children. They should be neither a first choice nor a last resort."

So, given the profound dangers - dangers researchers and other experts suggest outweigh the benefits in the majority of circumstances - why are so many doctors putting children on drugs? And perhaps more importantly, why are so many parents allowing doctors to do so? Here are a few possible (probable) reasons:

  1. Drug companies spent almost $30 billion on pharmaceutical promotion in 2005, more than $25 billion of which was spent to influence medical doctors, hospitals, etc. - the people who prescribe/dispense medication.  More than $4 billion was spent on direct-to-consumer advertising.
  2. Some medical doctors are at least becoming more aware of the existence of alternative medicine. However, the overwhelming majority still choose drugs first. That's what conventional medicine is all about - treating the symptoms with drugs, rather than dealing with the cause of the problem. That means if you visit the doctor's office with any type of complaint or symptom, you're likely to be prescribed a drug to mask the problem.
  3. Several studies suggest many doctors prescribe medications based on patient expectation. In essence, if they think you expect a prescription, they'll gladly provide one. And of course, one of the reasons you may expect a prescription is because you've seen it advertised on TV or in your favorite magazine.
  4. As all parents know, your children mean everything to you. Your worst fear is that they'll get sick or hurt in any way. If they do, you want them to get better - fast. That's exactly what medications promise: fast, easy solutions.

A Potential Drugless Option

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a plant with yellow flowers, native to Europe, West Asia and North Africa. It is now grown in North America, South America and Australia as well. The plant is ground up and prepared as a liquid, capsule or tablet.

Currently, St. John's wort is not recommended for very young children and pregnant or nursing mothers - not because research says it's unsafe, but because not enough research has been done to evaluate its safety when used by these groups. However, one large study has found St. John's wort to be a safe and effective way of treating mild to moderate symptoms of depression in children under age 12. (Source: University of Maryland Medical Center.) And since St. John's wort is considered a worthy alternative to antidepressant medications in other subject populations, it deserves mention.