Mind-altering drugs meant to treat attention deficit disorder - or ADD - are being given more and more to kids who have "problems that are symptoms of nothing more than childhood or adolescence," said Clinton on Monday at a White House gathering of health and education experts that she convened.
I am not a doctor, but I am a parent and a long time children's advocate and these findings concern me."
But the First Lady and New York U.S. Senate hopeful added she doesn't want to bash the medications.
"Some children do have severe emotional behavioral problems that can be helped by prescription drugs. These children are waiting for our help and today we are taking important steps to provide it."
But Dr. Larry Silver, an expert on treating such childhood problems as attention disorders, said sometimes only medications can work wonders.
"If these medications are used properly by people who trained to use them, they are very effective."
At the White House gathering, Clinton proposed new government warning labels for behavioral modification drugs, a national study on their use, and a fall conference on children's mental health.
ADD is usually diagnosed in school-age children based on interviews and observed behavior. Symptoms include the restless inability to sit still to read, study, watch television, or control impulses. Often, a child can't play in group games.
But some mild forms of these symptoms are common in many children, leading experts to worry that ADD is diagnosed too often. Some authorities worry that the drugs such as Ritalin supplant behavior therapy, which in many cases might be more helpful.
Ritalin is "probably being both overprescribed and underprescribed," said Dr. Steven Hyman, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, which is about to begin a nationwide study of Ritalin use in children under 6.
"What we have is a mismatch between the needs of individual children and what's actually happening in the world."
And Dr. Hyman said the mismatch may fall along class lines: affluent communities with too many prescriptions, poor areas with not enough.
"If you look at differences in diagnostic rates and Ritalin prescription from county to county in the United States, there is enormous variation."
Aside from Ritalin, more young children are also taking clonidine - a blood pressure drug used for sleep problems stemming from attention disorders - as well as antidepressants such as Prozac.
Recent studies show a doubling to tripling of the number of children under age 4 taking Ritalin, which is believed to increase a child's alertness by stimulating the central nervous system. And in the federal Medicaid program alone, prescriptions for antidepessants have doubled.