Rein in the drug firms that rule young lives

A gold mine has been exposed to the public gaze, just before its
closure. Doctors have been prescribing unlicenced anti-depressants
to thousands of under-18s. The Committee on Safety of Medicines
expert group has reviewed evidence from the manufacturers and
decided that the drugs are either not effective in children or have
side-effects including headaches, weight loss, anxiety, insomnia,
self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

The group is now looking at the impact on the under-20s. Warnings
have already been given about the risks of Seroxat and Efexor.
Richard Brook, the chief executive of Mind, says: “It is totally
unacceptable that for a significant period 50,000 children and
adolescents have been prescribed anti-depressant drugs that were
not licensed for use. There are enormous commercial interests
trying to influence decisions about the use of drugs. The public
needs to have confidence that their health is being properly
protected, particularly where children are concerned. I do not
believe we have a processÉthat ensures this is

Community Care‘s Changing Minds campaign in 2002 did much
to highlight the desperate inadequacies in mental health services
for the young. What this latest news confirms is a depressing
reaction to children with mental health difficulties: the use of
the chemical cosh. In Victorian times, the unruly junior members of
the working class, expected to put in a 10-hour working day, were
sedated with gin. Now, it’s Prozac – not yet on any banned

In a heart-rending interview in the Daily Telegraph, Sarah, 15,
explains she has been on one of the off-licence drugs, Cipramil,
for four months to counter her suicidal thoughts. “Before, I was
having nightmares. I was having trouble sleeping and it was
affecting my work,” she says. Taking the antidepressant, she is
“emotionally stable and not self-harming anything like as

The pharmaceuticals industry probably considers Sarah one of its
success stories as she has a strong chance of becoming a lifelong
consumer of antidepressants. Is this all we can offer our young –
drugs to blunt reality while doing little to discover the cause of
their pain?

Brook is right: we do need a beadier eye and tougher measures
imposed on the drug companies. But we also need a children’s
commissioner with teeth who should consider how we stop the
institutionalised drugging of our young and start building a proper
system of mental health care.

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