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'More Prescriptions Than In Last 22 Years': Pediatrician Treating Record Number Of Children For Mental Health Problems

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (CBSLA) - An Orange County, California pediatrician he is writing significantly more prescriptions for children having issues because they have been out of school for almost a year during the pandemic.

Frustrated parents are reporting more and more kids are on the emotional edge. "I remember last year we were like, great we get three weeks of spring break and a year later, we're still not back in school," says Wesley Pederson, a local parent.

Pediatrician Dr. Steven Abelowitz is concerned with the new and growing trend of prescribing record amounts of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications to students. He says drugs like Lexapro, Zoloft, and Prozac are being given to his patients more than he can ever recall. "Over the last year, I have probably prescribed more of those medications than cumulatively the last 22 years prior, which is horrible," says Dr. Steven Abelowitz, who runs Coastal Kids Pediatrics. His clinics currently treat 60,000 kids across Orange County.

Dr. Abelowitz fears for many students, the damage of not returning to in-person learning may be irreparable. He used to see one or two kids a year in danger of suicide but now it is one or two a month. "Not only are we prescribing more medications, we're needing to refer to the hospitals and emergency rooms more this year than we've ever seen before. Even in just the last couple of days where children were at risk of self-harm, having to send them to the emergency room to make sure they're in a safer environment," he says.

"It does not surprise me because I've seen it with my son," says Pedersen. "It's interesting because my wife and I talk and we try and figure out how much of that is him being 9 and 10, how much is that for a number of months he was removed from his friends, and how much of that is that now he's been removed from what is his normal routine

The CDC says COVID-19 strikes far fewer children than adults, and most children who do get it have mild or no symptoms. Abelowitz feels that getting students back into the classroom, in a masked and socially-distanced way, could save lives. "Just getting their lives back to normal," he says. "[Starting] now and accelerating fast because we're a year into this and a year in the life of a child — you take a 3- or 4- or 5-year-old, that's a quarter of their life," he says.

Orange County's COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases continued to decline Wednesday, but the county reported 37 additional deaths.

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