Thursday, March 18, 2010

Clinic Notes: Medication and ABA Redux

My last blog on medication and ABA prompted several insightful comments that I would like to address. First of all I am not pro med. Medication should only be used as a last resort after more conservative behavior therapies have been implemented. And this is what I tell parents who bring their children to my clinic. Furthermore, medications may facilitate other therapies but they will not "cure" or manage the behavior problems by themselves. Medication trials should only be initiated when the potential benefits of the medication clearly outweigh the potential side effects of the medications. If the medication trials do not show a clear effect in increasing the quality of life for the child then the medication should be discontinued. THIS "BEST PRACTICE" GUIDELINE SHOULD BE FOLLOWED BY EVERY CLINICIAN AND PARENT.
Now potential medications can be evaluated in a multi-child study with as much scientific control and safety guidelines as possible. It is difficult to get approval for these studies because the committees in charge of protecting subjects usually turns them down. Often, when these studies are done they are post hoc where medical records of subjects receiving the medications and a control group are examined. These studies usually show no differences between the control group and the medication group. More commonly medications are "evaluated" off-label in a clinical setting. A child having problems in school is given an ADD drug because the parents and teachers complain that he child will not stay on task. Ideally, a behavior program should be implemented first but that is not always done. And the criteria for success should be clear. Parents and teachers may report that the child on the ADD drug is paying attention better. But an examination of the child's grades often show no improvement. The child is easier to manage but that is not enough.
Clearly, there are many children who are over medicated and/or miss-medicated. But there are also a lot of children who could not function without their medication. Clinicians and the public need to be very careful in distinguishing between the two groups.

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