Why does obvious damage to children go ignored for so long?

Over the weekend, The New York Times had a splashy story about the overmedication of children. It was only 20 years late.

Writer Matt Richtel tells the story of Renae Smith, a high-school freshman who was prescribed ever more psychiatric drugs for her anxiety and depression until she was taking 10 different medications.

Pointing out that “many psychiatric drugs commonly prescribed to adolescents are not approved for people under 18,” the story quotes Lisa Cosgrove, a University of Massachusetts, Boston clinical psychologist: “You can very cogently argue that we don’t have evidence about what it means to be on multiple psychotropic medications. This is a generation of guinea pigs.”

This is horrifying. This is a travesty. This is a very old, known problem.

In fact, the Times piece points to decade-old studies showing teen psychiatric-drug use has been on a sharp trajectory upwards for a long time now. “A nationwide study published in 2006 examined records of visits to doctors’ offices by people younger than 20 and found a sharp rise in office visits involving the prescription of antipsychotic drugs — to 1.2 million in 2002 from 200,000 in 1993.”

Everyone knew this was happening, and we knew it was bad.

As antidepressant use in children has skyrocketed, so has suicide. Suicide rates for those aged 10 to 24 rose 60% from 2007 to 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, and climbed even higher during the pandemic.

The New York Times headquarters
The New York Times published an article detailing a high schooler who was prescribed 10 different medications.
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This isn’t a tenuous link. In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration added a “black box” warning that antidepressants can cause suicide. Two years later it updated the warning specifically to include children and adolescents.

Conservatives have been saying this for years. In fact, just last month when Tucker Carlson argued SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a type of antidepressant, are being overprescribed, the headlines attacked him.

“Why The Far Right Is Going After Antidepressants,” screeched The Huffington Post while Rolling Stone squalled, “The Far Right’s Next Target for a Bulls–t Moral Panic.”
Looks like The New York Times is far right now.

The larger issue isn’t so much the politicization of something like medicine, though that certainly is a problem. It’s that we have to pretend things that are obviously bad, like teenagers being prescribed nearly a dozen hardcore psychiatric pills, are OK while we all know they’re not.

It’s also hard not to notice a similarity to another guinea-pig experiment run on children. Boston Children’s Hospital was forced to update its website this month when it emerged it was offering “gender-affirming hysterectomies” to minors. The update said one had to be 18 to have one’s cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes removed.

An 18-year-old can’t legally smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol — but completely altering his or her body is acceptable, and anyone who says, rightly, that this is horrific is called a transphobe.

Boston Children's Hospital
Boston Children’s Hospital was recently under fire for offering “gender-affirming hysterectomies” to minors.
Lane Turner/Boston Globe via Getty Images

And other experiments are conducted on kids far younger. Puberty blockers have been all the rage in the medical community for many years. St. Louis Children’s Hospital advertises that its Transgender Center offers the blockers that “can delay unwanted changes like breast growth, facial hair, periods and voice deepening” along with “hormone therapy to help a person’s body match their gender identity.”

This combo can stunt growth, prevent the person from ever having an orgasm and lead to sterility. Yet experimenting on these guinea pigs continues.

We know this is crazy, same as we know that kids taking fistfuls of antidepressants is crazy. We don’t need The New York Times to finally realize it a few decades from now. These are our children, and they deserve far more care and attention than they’re being offered by the medical establishment. First, do no harm. But first, stop doing harm to children.

Twitter: @Karol

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