COMMENTARY | Across the range of family lifestyles and parenting choices, there are few topics upon which almost all parents and pediatricians agree. One can barely mention words like "cosleeping," "vaccine," or "spanking" without hearing a passionate argument between opposing viewpoints. One opinion, however, seems to be held unanimously by parents and physicians of all walks of life: Prescription medications are a miracle, but we give them to our children far, far too often. Fortunately, new studies show that the epidemic of overprescription is beginning to fade.
A child of the late '80s, I come from the generation plagued by overprescription of pediatric drugs. I was taking antidepressants before I was out of kindergarten -- and, perhaps unsurprisingly, that class of drugs is now well-recognized as inherently dangerous to children. By the time I was in middle school, most of my classmates were taking medication for ADD/ADHD. Well into the '90s and '00s, children were routinely prescribed antibiotics for viral infections, either as unneeded prophylaxis or placebo.
With the exception of a few fringe groups, we can all agree that each of these medications has its place and value, but overprescription was, and remains, a serious problem. The overuse of antibiotics in children is partially responsible for the rise of "superbug" bacteria like MRSA, and we often find out years after experimental prescriptions that certain drugs, such as SSRI antidepressants, pose a threat to children's health. Since 2008, we've also seen warnings that cold and cough medicines, once given routinely to babies and toddlers, are both ineffective and dangerous to children under the age of six.
As an investigation by the American Academy of Pediatrics found, these warnings are finally getting through to both parents and prescribing doctors. Between 2002 and 2010, prescriptions for antibiotics, cold medicines, cough medicines and antidepressants have declined dramatically among children. This is good news, since reductions in antibiotic use might help to stave off antibiotic-resistant pandemics, and more children are safely and reasonably avoiding the now-known dangers of cold, cough, and antidepressant prescription drugs.
Antihistamine prescriptions also declined for children in the eight years of the study. This is likely a result of many child-safe allergy medicines, such as Claritin and Allergra, becoming available over-the-counter. Kids are also taking fewer prescription pain medications, possibly because drug-free pain management methods such as massage and relaxation are on the rise.
Despite overall declines in prescriptions for children-- a total of a 7 percent decrease across all types of medication-- some drugs actually gained popularity over the course of the AAP's study. Medications used in the treatment of ADD and ADHD increased somewhat, possibly because of off-label use in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder and other increasingly diagnosed neurobehavioral disorder. The AAP also documented an increase in prescriptions for birth control for teen girls.
While I'm happy to know that prescription medications are readily available should my daughter develop a condition that necessitates their use, I'm glad to know that overall prescriptions, especially for potentially dangerous medications, are finally on the decline for children. I hope that, one day, our medical system will be of maximum safety and efficiency-- we'll see more prescriptions for medications that children need for the preservation of life, limb, and ability, and fewer prescriptions for the drugs that are more likely to than help.
Juniper Russo is a freelance writer, health advocate, and dedicated mom living in Chattanooga, Tenn.