Democratic Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton called for more research on the effects of mood-altering medications like Ritalin and Prozac on children younger than 7.
While some children may benefit from drug therapy for behavioral problems like attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Mrs. Clinton questioned whether too many young children were being prescribed those medications without adequate research on whether they are appropriate or effective.
"Some children do have severe emotional behavioral problems that can be helped by prescription drugs," she said. But she noted that "some of these young people have problems that are symptoms of nothing more than childhood or adolescence."
The first lady, who is seeking a Senate seat from New York, met with a group of health and education experts at the White House yesterday, announcing a $5 million National Institute of Mental Health study on the impact of psychotropic drugs on children. Those drugs include stimulants, depressants, sedatives and anti-psychotics, which act chemically on the brain. She also called for new government warning labels for the drugs and a fall conference on children's mental health.
Mrs. Clinton's announcement comes less than a month after the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the number of preschool children on antidepressants had increased by more than 200 percent between 1991 and 1995. The number of children aged 2 to 4 taking stimulants such as Ritalin also more than doubled, the JAMA study found.
Only about 25 percent of prescription medications are labeled for use on children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
More research is needed, said Salvatore Cullari, chairman of the psychology department at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa.
"We don't have any good scientific studies with kids under age 6," Mr. Cullari said. "Even if it does work with these kids, I'm not sure we should be using it anyway until we've done these studies."
Ritalin, which is used to treat hyperactivity, has not been approved for use under the age of 6, but off-label usage for those patients is widespread among physicians, he said.
"I think medications really should be the last resort, especially with young kids. We should try everything else first unless we are talking about a kid who is in danger of hurting himself or attempting suicide.
"The problem is that I think it's easier for a physician to just prescribe a medication," he said. "I think some of the managed care companies would just prefer the physicians to prescribe the medication because it's cheaper to treat than through therapy or behavior modification and …