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Surprising Science

Why Are So Many 2-Year-Olds on Antipsychotic Drugs?

It’s not just doctors armed with prescription pads and itchy trigger fingers.

When children run around like crazy, it’s not a big deal right? Don’t we commonly say that kids will just be kids? Many may agree with that position, but it looks like not everyone does. The New York Timesbroke the news last week that, in 2014 alone, approximately 20,000 prescriptions for antipsychotics were made out to children under the age of two.

If that sounds shocking, you’re not the only one. Antipsychotic drugs generally aren’t tested for use on children, nor do they come with usage instructions for such a young population. Some speculate that not all of the prescriptions made out were meant for children. In some cases, they might have been actually intended for an uninsured or underinsured parent, for instance. But at least some of the prescriptions were meant for toddlers with behaviors that parents and/or doctors deemed unhealthy or aggressive.

Below, psychiatrist Julie Holland delves into the dangers of overmedication: 

The 20,000 prescriptions made out in 2014 represent a 50 percent rise from the year before. But before we go demonizing the parents and doctors that give these powerful drugs to youngsters, it’s helpful to understand the circumstances that encourage them to do so in the first place.

In a world in which both parents work and affordable childcare is a scarce commodity, parents are panicked about what to do with young children who remain severely withdrawn or who consistently act out in ways daycare providers can’t handle. Parents need their children to “behave” in order to be able to focus on making the money that keeps them afloat.

Medicating for behavioral issues at two years old is far too early to be introducing such powerful drugs to young and changing minds. One can only hope this trend wanes, and other kinds of healthier support become available to those parents struggling with their children’s behavior.

If we had more flexible work policies, guaranteed leave, and better access to childcare in the U.S., perhaps we would see this disturbing statistic reverse itself for good.

Image: Uncleraf/Shutterstock


Stefani is a writer and urban planner based in Oakland, CA. She holds a master’s in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s in Human Biology from Stanford University. In her free time she is often found reading diverse literature, writing stories, or enjoying the outdoors.  Follow her on Twitter:@stefanicox