Posted On: November 21, 2008

Overmedicating Children and Doctors' Conflicts of Interest

Nearly every week, we hear more evidence that American children are over-medicated, especially with drugs that affect mood and behavior. Most recently, a panel of experts has denounced the overuse of Risperdal, a powerful antipsychotic drug, for attention deficit disorder. The drug has too many side effects, including potential development of permanent muscle twitching, to justify its use in mild conditions like ADD for which other options exist, according to the expert panel convened by the Food & Drug Administration to advise it on labeling changes.

What is behind the explosion in use of antipsychotic drugs in children (besides Risperdal, they include Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon) is a drumbeat of support from leaders in child psychiatry. But that leadership is tainted by their ties to the drug industry -- ties that frequently don't get mentioned in public when these same doctors are lecturing their colleagues and advising worried parents. One leader, Dr. Joseph Biederman, a child psychiatrist at Harvard, was revealed by a Congressional investigation to have accepted $1.4 million from manufacturers of antipsychotic drugs that he did not disclose to his university. Another psychiatrist leader, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff of Emory, had to step down as chair of psychiatry after it was revealed that much of his consulting pay from drug makers, which totaled over $2.8 million in seven years, had been hidden from his university.

Now another influential psychiatrist has been exposed for his secret ties to the drug industry. He is Dr. Frederick Goodwin, former chief of the National Institute of Mental Health, who hosted a popular show on National Public Radio, "The Infinite Mind." Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa released data to the New York Times showing that Dr. Goodwin received $1.3 million from drug manufacturers from 2000 to 2007 for giving marketing lectures to other doctors. The money was never mentioned on his radio show, and NPR now says the show has been canceled and all reruns will stop soon.

According to the Times' Gardiner Harris, on one day in 2005, Dr. Goodwin received $2,500 from GlaxoSmithKline to give a talk about its mood stabilizer drug Lamictal at a Ritz Carlton resort in Florida. On his radio show broadcast the same day, Dr. Goodwin said that children with bipolar disorder who did not get treatment could suffer brain damage (a controversial prognosis) but he reassured his listeners that mood stabilizer drugs were a safe and effective way to treat the problem.

Senator Grassley has sponsored legislation to require drug makers to post publicly all the payments they make to doctor consultants. That would help the public to know whether the recommendations they see from doctors for medicating their children are truly unbiased or should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Posted On: November 20, 2008

Recent Surge in Crib Accidents Prompts Safety Reform

Next time you think it’s safe to leave your baby unattended in a crib, think again.

Design flaws and confusing instruction manual – among other factors – contribute to the rising number of crib accidents in the past two years, resulting in the federal government’s recall of 3.6 million cribs. That’s more than the number of recalled cribs in the last 30 years combined.

Some of the problems recurrently reported by parents include:

(1) Mattress platforms that drop and form a gap that can entrap and strangle babies;
(2) Bars too far apart, allowing babies’ small and flexible bodies to slide through;
(3) Confusing installation manuals that allow parents to misassemble;
(4) Flawed designs that allow cribs to operate even when misassembled, albeit dangerously.

Injuries from crib mishaps can become terrible tragedies, with children dying or even suffering brain injury.

Before the government puts in place new and stricter safety regulations, what can parents do to minimize the chance of their babies getting injured in the cribs? They should always make sure the cribs are assembled properly and securely, and never assume that nothing will happen to the babies simply because they’re in the cribs -- check up on them frequently!

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