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Medicating Kids With Untested Drugs

One of my favorite topics here at World of Psychology is pointing out the poor choices we make when faced with very little knowledge. You’d think human beings, when faced with a lack of data, would choose not to do anything in order to protect themselves or their loved ones. Especially when those loved ones are our own children.

Psychologists have known, for instance, based upon real data and science compiled over the past 8 or 9 decades, that children are not just miniature versions of adults. Any physician or pediatrician also knows and understands this to be true — it’s not even a question open for debate.

Yet those same physicians and pediatricians and psychiatrists will not blink an eye at prescribing adult medications to children — medications on which we have very little data or evidence that they work in the same way, with little or no long-term developmental side effects. You know, those pesky little things like lowering intelligence, causing other behavioral or social problems, or causing physical damage to the developing brain or other body parts.

The number of child psychiatric medications which have undergone the same rigorous FDA approval processes as the adult versions is relatively small — mostly medications for ADHD, a fairly common childhood affliction. Some have also been approved for children’s use for depression and bipolar disorder, as well as some other mostly childhood-based mental disorders.

This process has been going on for so long, however, that most doctors see nothing wrong with it. This article describes the simplicity of the method of prescribing psychiatric medications (whether approved for children’s use or not):

Although much of the initial information regarding psychiatric medication use comes from adult studies, child and adolescent psychiatrists may consider trying them in younger age groups and encourage future approval for children. This process can begin when professionals describe their successes in single cases.

In other words, some enterprising doctors see the potential for a peer-reviewed journal publication and think nothing of using a child as a guinea pig to help forward our understanding and knowledge. You know, it’s all “in the name of science.” Does the informed consent procedure in such cases include the statement, “We have no idea what the long-term developmental side effects of prescribing this medication to your child over the course of 3 or 4 or 5 years may be. Your child could suffer from significant side effects 10 or 20 years from now, we just don’t know”?

No, it doesn’t, at least not in so many words.

Why have we gotten where we are today, with so many studies looking at the safety and efficacy of drugs for adults and so few for children? The Washington Post has an article today that describes exactly that — A Gap in Knowledge About Kids, Medication. Well worth the read.

A few weeks ago, Los Angeles Times asked the question a lot more of us are asking these days, Are we too quick to medicate children? I’m not sure if the answer is an unqualified “Yes,” but I do know the current state of affairs leaves me scared to death we are prescribing sometimes very powerful, unapproved-for-children’s-use drugs without really understanding the potential harm they may bring to the child in the future.

Medicating Kids With Untested Drugs

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Medicating Kids With Untested Drugs. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Nov 2007)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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