Study: Kids with ADHD taking strong drugs with major side effects

As Georgia students get ready to head back to class, a disturbing study.

Researchers found preteens and teens - especially boys - with behavioral issues like ADHD are being prescribed anti-psychotic medications. They’re ending up on drugs typically reserved for people with brain disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Dr. Taz Bhatia, who founded the Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine, read through the study, and found the numbers troubling.

She says, "If you look at the statistics, it's almost like 1.5 percent of our boys between the ages of 10 and 18 are on an antipsychotic medication."

And researchers at Columbia and Yale Universities and the New York State Psychiatric Institute warned antipsychotic medications can cause major side effects, like a blunting of emotions and severe weight gain. And, unlike stimulants like Ritalin, antipsychotics are not FDA-approved for use in children with behavioral issues.

Dr. Bhatia, who goes professionally by Dr. Taz, says, "Nobody, whether you're a mom trying to advocate for your child, or you're a physician trying to decide what's best for the child, nobody wants a child on a medication with long-term side effects that may even affect their development. Nobody wants that. We have to create a system that really digs and looks for other options for these kids."

Dr. Taz acknowledges that some kids need an ADHD medication. But, she thinks it should be used only as part of a broader treatment plan that includes lifestyle and dietary changes and behavioral therapy.

So, what should you do if your child's doctor is recommending a pill?  Dr. Taz says, “My first recommendation would be to make sure you're on the lowest dose of that medication with the fewest side effects."

Next, Dr. Taz says ask what else you can do – along with the medication – to help your child succeed.

She says, “That’s where you and your doctor should be talking about sleep and diet, and (about) other things. Like, about school, and are they well-matched to the school they're about to enter?”

The researchers pointed out many of the children being prescribed antipsychotic medications had not been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association publication “JAMA Psychiatry.”

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