A freelance journalist delves into what has been called a giant uncontrolled experiment using America’s children as guinea pigs.
As a member of this group herself, Barnett explores the issues faced by the first generation of children, now entering adulthood, who were treated with psychopharmaceutical drugs from the time they were youngsters. For the past two decades, American children have been increasingly prescribed psychiatric medications for a rainbow of conditions including depression, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and more general behavioral problems. The author notes most of the drugs “were and still are prescribed to children and teens without official FDA approval for the relevant condition and age group.” Childcare books during this period categorized kids with these issues as difficult or problem children, whose behaviors unsettled not just their family but became “a threat to the entire family dynamic that needed to be addressed and dealt with.” A new class of drugs developed during the 1990s, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) held out the hope of relief, if not a miracle cure. During this period, the FDA allowed pharmaceutical companies direct access to consumers through TV advertising. Barnett tackles this complex saga by chronicling the stories of five individuals who were medicated as youngsters, weaving their narratives together with a learned discussion of psychiatric treatments, medical models, side effects breakdowns, and the numerous issues faced when medicated children attend school. The author began her research after reading an article about a woman in her 30s, who, having been on medication since she was 14, wondered how drugs “had shaped her psychological development and ultimately her identity.” The woman’s psychiatrist noted that his patient was just one of many who raised this question. Occasionally Barnett, who began taking Prozac when she was 17, adds her point of view to the discussion.
The author’s clear rendering of the tough questions surrounding this knotty topic should make it required reading for anyone touched by this issue.