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June 3, 2014

Girl looks very upset at the thought of taking her medicine

And once again, our country’s disadvantaged kids are being unnecessarily medicated nearly three times more often.

According to CDC officials, more than 10,000 American toddlers—children who are just 2 or 3 years old—are being medicated for alleged attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

There are few studies on the impact of psychostimulant ADHD drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin) or amphetamines (like Adderall) in children this young. However, we do know that the side effects of ADHD drugs include stunted growth, insomnia, hallucinations, high blood pressure, involuntary movements, aggressive behavior, heart attack, brain hemorrhage, stroke, migraines, and seizures. Emerging evidence also suggests that Ritalin can cause long-term damage to developing prefrontal cortexes, resulting in “rigid behavior, difficulties with multitasking, or problems with short-term memory” later in life.

example, while anti-psychotics are intended to treat disorders like schizophrenia, autism, and bipolar disorder, poorer kids are more likely to be prescribed these dangerous meds for ADHD and simple misbehavior. This is called “off label” prescribing: it’s perfectly legal, though there are no long-term studies on the effect of these very dangerous drugs on children when prescribed for less severe conditions.

Antibiotics—for colds. More than half of adult Medicaid patients with colds or respiratory track infections were prescribed antibiotics in 2007—although antibiotics are not recommended in these cases and such inappropriate prescribing directly contributes to the global antibiotics resistance crisis.

Addictive opioids. As we recently reported, one in five pregnant women now take opioid painkillers. What’s worse, women on Medicaid are being prescribed painkillers during pregnancy at much higher rates: 23% of women on Medicaid, compared to 14% of women with private insurance, are being prescribed opioids (Medicaid covers the medical expenses for 45% of American births).

Additionally, a CDC report that analyzed opioid overdose deaths in Washington State from 2004 to 2007 found that 45.4% percent of overdose deaths were among persons enrolled in Medicaid. The overdose death rate was 30.8 per 100,000 people in the Medicaid-enrolled population, and just 4 per 100,000 in the non-Medicaid population.

What’s going on here? Why are our country’s poor so much more likely to be prescribed dangerous drugs?

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