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Overmedicating Kids?

Most medications for mental illness have been approved for adults only. But they're also being used to treat kids. Because the long-term effects on children (particularly a developing brain) are still unclear, the medical community is torn.

Jeffrey Kluger, Time magazine senior writer, explores the issue of kids and "brain drugs" in this week's cover story, "Are We Giving Kids Too Many Drugs?"

From 1987 to 1997, the number of people treated for depression who chose to be treated with drugs rose 37 to 75 percent and that number increased in that same 10-year period up to ten-fold for children.

Kluger tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler, "We're seeing a much higher incidence of diagnosed emotional or mental conditions among kids. That could be, in part, the fact we're living in a more challenging time and more stressful time. And it can also be simply that doctors and parents are identifying these things better. Moving along in lockstep with that has been the development of a lot of medications that didn't exist even 10 years ago. It was only 1991 or so that we all started learning about Prozac, and there has been an explosion of those drugs since then, so the two lines are converging to produce this drug phenomenon."

And what parent wouldn't want to use a drug if it meant their child would cope better?

Kluger notes, "There is nobody who would deny that for kids who are profoundly depressed, kids potentially suicidal, kids who are paralyzed by social anxiety or, say, obsessive-compulsive disorder, drugs are a real and life-saving option. At the other end of the extreme, kids who have mild or manageable symptoms, you probably really want to opt for therapy techniques first, but the majority of kids fall into that plump middle range of the bell curve and that is where you really have to evaluate the risks of giving kids drugs that may not necessarily have been approved for kids versus the benefits of getting the symptoms under control and getting the kids stabilized."

Some of the drugs also cause a wide range of side effects, so the drugs may be able to alleviate some of the symptoms and they may create a whole host of other problems. Kluger notes from weight gain to sleeplessness to a loss of libido. (In the case of young children, that may not be an issue. But young teens "are beginning to experience their first sexual awareness and those are important developmental years.)

Kluger conclude, "So what you have is the potential for these side effects versus the very real symptoms, and you have to balance which is more acute and which can be tolerated better."

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