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A Toddler on 3 Different Psychiatric Meds? How Drugging Kids Became Big Business

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page and our Appetite For a Change page.

The following is an excerpt from Enrico Gnualati's new book Back to Normal: The Overlooked, Ordinary Explanations for Kid's ADHD, Bipolar, and Autistic-Like Behavior  ( Beacon Press, 2013):

On December 13, 2006, paramedics arrived at the Plymouth County, Massachusetts, home of four-year-old Rebecca Riley only to find her slumped over on her parents' bed, dead. The medical examiner on hand identified the cause of death as heart and lung failure brought about by the medications she was on. Rebecca was being prescribed Depakote, Seroquel, and Clonidine by Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, a Tufts-New England Medical Center child psychiatrist. She had diagnosed Rebecca with ADHD and bipolar disorder when she was two years old. Rebecca's death provoked a national debate on how a child as young as two could ever be diagnosed with major mental illnesses and be put on powerful tranquilizers. Katie Couric eventually covered the story in a CBS 60 Minutes segment.

Ultimately, Rebecca's parents were tried for and convicted of murder due to allegedly overdosing her. But this harrowing outcome didn't take the national spotlight off the shocking revelation that a toddler could be diagnosed with mental illness and put on not just one but three powerful tranquilizers. None of the drugs Rebecca was prescribed was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use with kids her age-not then and not now. There was absolutely no robust scientific justification for Dr. Kifuji making the medication choices that she made. How could a reputable psychiatrist be so inclined to diagnose a child so young with diagnoses so severe and treat with medications so unapproved? The main answer lies with the spectacular success of twenty-first-century pharmaceutical marketing of psychiatric drugs.

In 2008, psychiatric drugs sold in the United States netted their makers $40.3 billion. A good portion of that amount involved drugs commonly prescribed to kids. A Wall Street Journal report indicates that between 2002 and 2007, prescriptions for psychiatric drugs for kids rose by nearly 45 percent. The most recent estimates suggest that up to eight million American kids are on one or more psychiatric medications. Meds for kids are big business and highly profitable.