GUEST OPINION: Screening and drugging children
will not prevent social ills
- by Karen Effrem, M.D., Minnesota
|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
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
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
In the midst of this effort to do good, the following facts are
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
"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
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
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
Dr. Effrem and her husband, Paul, have three children and live in
the Minneapolis metro area.]
launches compulsory mental health screening for children and
pregnant women on Monday, July 19, 2004
Mental Health task force hearings continue through Friday on
Wednesday, July 21, 2004.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org,
and include your name and town.