Vatican conference to reveal harm of prescription drugs for children

An upcoming conference at the Vatican will examine the harmful effects of using prescription drugs rather than therapy to treat emotional disorders and mental illnesses in children and expectant mothers.

"We want this conference to show a scholarly perspective and then we also want to disseminate our information to a wider audience with the Vatican's help," a psychologist who has helped organize the conference, Barry Duncan, told CNA May 31.

An event six years in the making, "The Child as a Person and as a Patient: Therapeutic Approaches Compared," will take place June 14 to 15 in St. Pius X Hall and will feature several psychiatrists and psychologists, a social worker, family therapist and an investigative journalist.

The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers has organized the conference in hopes of bringing together professionals to discuss the harmful consequences of overusing prescription drugs for treating mental and emotional disorders in children as well as how a similar trend is hurting pregnant mothers.

"Pharmaceutical industries spend millions and millions of dollars on misinformation and we want to counteract that with this conference," Duncan said.

According to Duncan, misinformed physicians are now frequently recommending children to take one of two main groups of drugs, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, better known as SSRIs, and anti-psychotics.

"SSRIs double the risk of suicide for children while anti-psychotics cause cardiovascular problems, obesity and diabetes," said Duncan.

He said prescriptions for psychiatric drugs have increased by 274 percent globally in over 50 countries since 2003. In the United States alone, 11 million SSRIs are being given to children each year, he added.

"Anti-psychotics used to be reserved for adults with serious mental disorders but now they're being given to children who are poor because it is the easier option," he added.

The conference hopes to prove that "psychosocial options" are better than "psychotropic care." In other words, a sort of psychotherapy is safer than drugs, which are the cheaper and faster option.

"The cause of their problems varies a lot since they could have parents with alcohol or drug addictions or it could just stem from poverty issues so the causes to their behavior could be wide ranging," he said.

According to the psychologist, the people giving these children drugs are not treating the root of their problems and are just "sedating and controlling" them to make the unruly children more "manageable."

"That's why we need to take the time to find out the problem looking at poverty and despair and not just a quick fix," he added.

Duncan explained that this is mostly affecting children aged 6 to 17, but younger children are also being unnecessarily drugged, even by health care workers who are not doctors and are therefore not aware of the severe side effects of the medication.

"Nurses and psychologists can prescribe them with these drugs in some states in the U.S., but it is mostly primary care physicians prescribing them and they do not know much about clinical trial results," he stated. "One of the problems is that epidemiological research is always two or three years behind."

Experts taking part in the conference also hope to show that the risks heavily outweigh the benefits of the drugs.

"Honest science recommends no first usage of psychiatric drugs and to try everything else first because there is good sound data to prove this," said Marcia Barbacki, an occupational therapist who has experience treating children told CNA May 30.

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Barbacki said patients are not well informed of all of the side effects because "it is hard to access all of the data."

"If it is very difficult for doctors to obtain all of the data and be informed of all of the side effects, how will family and patients be informed?" she asked. "This is why this conference is so important for them."

The therapist noted people "should have all of the information about these drugs so they can have informed consent."

"I have witnessed an increased usage of psychiatric drugs as well as people who consume more than one psychiatric drug simultaneously and it's increased my concern,"she said.

The president of the Council, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, will make the opening speech.

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