Clonidine and the roller coaster of psychiatric meds for kids

A sad little boy.

If he'd been on Clonidine, perhaps the sobs would have subsided. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/tracy the astonishing/Flickr)

Long, frequent deployments take their toll on military families – particularly families with young children. According to Army Times, this breakdown of the family unit has caused the number of psychiatric drugs like Clonidine prescribed to children each year to skyrocket. In large part, this disturbing trend also mirrors the overall increase of psychiatric drug prescriptions to enlisted men and women.

Clonidine means Johnny doesn’t cry when daddy is gone

The National Center for Biotechnology Information indicates that Clonidine is an alpha-agonist hypotensive agent that works to decrease heart rate and relax blood vessels. Some psychiatrists prescribe Clonidine to treat such conditions as ADHD, anxiety and autism, although many others oppose the drug because of potential side effects like excess sedation and irritability.

Regardless of where medical professionals fall on the debate, it is indisputable that psychiatric medication prescriptions for military children have gone way up. Army Times indicates that in 2009, more than 300,000 prescriptions for psychiatric drugs were provided to military children. That figure is 18 percent higher than it was in 2005, and the under-18 military family population increased by less than 1 percent over that span. Antipsychotics were up 50 percent, while anti-anxiety drugs like Clonidine were up 40 percent.

Overall, active-duty forces have seen a 76 percent increase an psychiatric medications since the Afghanistan war began.

The roller coaster of deployment and re-integration

Many child psychologists say developing children require structure. Yet when mom or dad is away on deployment, then suddenly thrust back into the family during re-integration periods, the result is stress for military children, says Dr. Patricia Lester, a University of California, Los Angeles psychiatrist.

These cycles repeat over the course of a parent’s military career, an assertion that is borne out in mental health studies conducted such as the one conducted by the Rand Corp. Military children with parents who went away on longer, more frequent deployments performed significantly worse in school and required nearly 20 percent more pediatric outpatient visits. This is turn leads to increased prescriptions of drugs like Clonidine and various anti-psychotics.

Psychiatrists who spoke with Army Times expressed concern over the growing trend of psychiatric prescriptions for children, and the increase among military children suggests that perhaps military families are having a difficult time managing.


Army Times

National Center for Biotechnology Information

The Clonidine (and other meds) Song

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