The major theme to emerge from the two day forum was that there is a growing body of evidence that the long term use of ADHD medications by children provides no benefits and poses significant risks to growing minds and bodies. Forum participants were also concerned this evidence is being ignored and that the application of the over-simplified, dumbed down, ‘ADHD’ label denies children appropriate individualised responses to their unique circumstances.
The two top priorities identified by the forum were:
1 – The redevelopment of the draft national guidelines on ADHD by a group of mental health experts without commercial ties to the pharmaceutical industry who will ignore commercially tainted evidence and incorporate the emerging evidence of long term harm into their deliberations. (refer to One Year on From the Release of the National ADHD Guidelines)
2 – Urgent action to address the disproportionate use of psychotropic drugs by children in the care of the state (in either foster or institutional care). There is significant evidence that these often previously abused children are being ‘medicated’ with a range of psychotropic drugs as a substitute for safer, more effective, individualised interventions.
Commentary – The issue of the use of psychotropic drugs on children in state care
Although hard data is patchy, there is anecdotal evidence of the widespread use of psychotropic drugs as the primary method of behaviour control for children in the care of welfare authorities across Australia. The issue has attracted some interest in Queensland and New South Wales. On Sunday 12 February 2011 the (Brisbane) Sunday Mail published an article titled ’Foster children doped up in care’ highlighting the issue of the use of ‘ADHD medication’ by children care in Queensland (refer to http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/sunday-mail/foster-children-doped-up-in-care/story-e6frep2f-1226005048486). In 2008 The Australian published an article titled ‘Children in care drugged’ which covered similar concerns about the use of ‘chemical straightjackets’ on New South Wales children in care (refer to http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/children-in-care-drugged/story-e6frg6nf-1111117927563).
Other states don’t even know the extent of the problem. For example on 5 May 2009 Martin Whitely MLA in the Western Australian Parliament asked of the Minister representing the Minister for Child Protection; What is the number and proportion of children in State care, both in institutions and foster care, that are prescribed the following classes of psychotropic medications: (a) Antidepressants; (b) Antipsychotics; (c) Amphetamines; and (d) Amphetamine-like substances (eg. Methylphenidate)? The reply was that ‘this information is stored on individual case files and is not itemised on the Department’s information management system in a way that is reportable. A manual check of all information on all case files required to provide this information would be a significant drain on the Department’s resources.’ Since then the West Australian Government has refused numerous requests by Martin Whitely MLA to review the use of psychotropic drugs by children in care in WA.
This is an issue that needs urgent attention in Western Australia and across Australia. It is too easy for governments in direct care of children who have very often suffered significant abuse and neglect to rely on drugs to temporarily suppress the child’s troubled behaviours. It is too easy for state governments to avoid the issue. It is a national disgrace that we do not know how many abused Australian Children are going on to be chemically abused in state care.
Update; At least things have not got as bad as they appear to have in Miami Florida a highlighted in this article in the Miami Herald written in May 2011 http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/05/28/2240617/creating.html