Inside Illinois
GUEST OPINION: Screening and drugging children will not prevent social ills

Monday, July 26, 2004

 - by Karen Effrem, M.D., Minnesota pediatrician

Illinois bureaucrats are pushing through a plan to screen the mental health of all children and all pregnant women in the state. A plan to obtain discount psychotropic drugs is a part of the new program.

Only men over age 18 will be exempt.

OPINION -- Last week the state of Illinois launched a series of public meetings to implement the Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003. This legislation requires mental health screening for all children and pregnant women.

On the surface, this sounds wonderful, especially when dealing with the difficult problems like post-partum and youth depression and suicide and school shootings.

However, several questions must be asked.

What are the rights of youth and their parents to refuse or opt out of this screening? Will they face coercion and threats of removal from school or child abuse/neglect charges if they refuse?

How reliable are the screening instruments? What if the diagnosis is wrong? How will a child or adolescent remove a stigmatizing label from their records that could follow them the rest of their lives?

Will parents and pregnant women be honestly told about the potentially severe side effects of the medications used in treatment?

In the midst of this effort to do good, the following facts are being overlooked:

1) Screening does not prevent suicide - The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued its findings and recommendation against screening for suicide that corroborate those of the Canadian PSTF.

"USPSTF found no evidence that screening for suicide risk reduces suicide attempts or mortality. There is limited evidence on the accuracy of screening tools to identify suicide risk in the primary care setting, including tools to identify those at high risk."


2) Mental health diagnoses are “subjective” and “social constructions” as admitted by the authors of the diagnostic manuals themselves.

3) Parents are already being coerced to put their children on psychiatric medications and some children are dying because of it. This law will only increase that problem.

Across the country, Patricia Weathers, the Carroll Family, the Johnston Family, and the Salazar Family were all charged or threatened with child abuse charges for refusing or taking their children off of psychiatric medications. Both Matthew Smith and Shaina Dunkle died of medication toxicity after their parents were coerced to place their children on drugs by the schools.

4) Most psychiatric medications do not work in children - Medical textbooks, published and unpublished research, and government reports consistently state that the long term safety and effectiveness of antidepressants like Prozac and stimulants like Ritalin have yet to be proven.

5) The side effects of these medications in children are severe. They include suicide and violence from the new antidepressants; cardiac (heart) toxicity from the older antidepressants; growth suppression, psychosis, and violence from stimulants; and diabetes from the newer anti-psychotic medications.

Several school shooters, like Eric Harris, Kip Kinkel, and Jason Hoffman were on antidepressants or stimulants or both at the time of their crimes.

Parents need to say no to this intrusive and ineffective plan.

Implementation at least should be delayed until parents and pregnant women can refuse assessment and/or treatment without coercion. Sensitive data must be protected and informed consent about the lack of safety and effectiveness of psychiatric medication in children should be added.

(For detailed references, see


[Dr. Karen Effrem is a pediatrician and researcher. Dr. Effrem's medical degree is from Johns Hopkins University, her pediatric training from the University of Minnesota.

She researched children's health, political, and educational issues for nine years and authored research papers on these topics for the Center of the American Experiment and for the Minnesota Family Council. Dr. Effrem authored the Data Privacy chapter in "The Seamless Web," published by EdWatch in 1999.

Most recently, Dr. Effrem testified before Congressional education subcommittees on student data collection, testing, and the over-prescription of psychotropic drugs. She provided in-depth analysis for several major federal education bills. Dr. Effrem has been involved in the drafting of and testifying for legislation related to removing Minnesota from the Goals 2000 and School to Work system, for medical and academic data privacy, and against invasive early childhood legislation. She has spoken at numerous state and national conferences.

Dr. Effrem and her husband, Paul, have three children and live in the Minneapolis metro area.]


Related stories:

IL launches compulsory mental health screening for children and pregnant women on Monday, July 19, 2004

Children's Mental Health task force hearings continue through Friday on Wednesday, July 21, 2004.

Mental health plan forums end, parents concerned about findings on Friday, July 23, 2004.


What are your thoughts concerning the issues raised in this commentary? Write a letter to the editor at, and include your name and town.

E-mail this article to a friend | Printer friendly format

Refer your friends!