Friday, July 17, 2009

The True "Effectiveness" of Medications

Just a note about the supposed "effectiveness" of the psychotropic drugs used to treat issues like ADD or ADHD.

It has been my experience that the vast majority of parents with whom I have had the privilege or working and who have tried medications on their children, have found that such medications do not work as they had hoped. I would guess that less than 10% feel the meds do (or did) that which they were supposed to do. Moreover, nearly 100% of those parents informed me that their children had experienced some sort of negative side-effect from those meds.

Now, don't get me wrong. In talking to these parents, it was clear that the meds had some sort of noticeable effect almost all the time; the question was whether the effect was that for which the parents had hoped.

I always had found this curious since every doctor that prescribed such medications (including the ones that treated my son, Robert) stated in no uncertain terms that such meds were "highly" effective, "perfectly" safe, and that side-effects were "rare." (From previous posts, I think you already know what I think about the "perfectly" safe claim....)

I chalked up the numbers I heard to what I supposed were the more "unique" experiences of the parents that sought my services.

However, in a completely unscientific manner, I put my experience, assumptions, and the doctors' statements to a test.

During a SEPTA presentation, I asked the parents how many of them had tried meds on their kids. 17 couples raised their hands. I then asked how many of those 17 experienced no side-effects. Not a single hand went up. 100% of those parents' children had some sort of side-effect from the meds.

Then I asked how many parents were satisfied with the effects of the meds -- not whether they were happy that their kids were on meds -- but, whether they thought the meds did what the meds were supposed to do. Four hands went up.

Four. Four out of 17, less than 24%.

I repeated this experiment at another meeting, except this time the audience was decidedly in favor of the traditional, medical approach to the treatment of attention and behavior issues. Needless to say, my talk about sensory integration, nutrition and cognitive work was not particularly well received. In fact, after explaining the wonderful success we had with a non-medication based approach for Robert, one parent (whose job it seemed was to question every single statement I made that night) looked at me, shook her head, and said with a clear note of disdain, "well, that might have worked for your child."

Despite the obvious bias, I asked my meds questions. And, here's what I found:
100% of the children whose parents tried meds experienced some sort of side-effect.

Less than 50% of those parents thought the meds were truly effective.

So, if we take the numbers so far: less than 10%, less than 24%, even less than 50%, are psychotropic meds really "very effective"?

But, wait, there's more.

Lauren Slater, psychologist and author of Opening Skinner's Box, writes about an individual suffering from OCD who did not respond to any of the psychotropic drugs prescribed for him. "[B]ut," she notes, "he's not among the minority in his lack of response, despite what the industry would lead us to think."

"The statistics drug companies and many psychopharmacologists like to quote are that seventy percent of people who try medication will get better, and thirty percent won't.... If we look closer though, a diffent sort of story emerges. It's true that roughly seventy percent of people who take medication will respond, but in reality only thirty percent will respond robustly; the rest experience only minimum or moderate relief, and of the total patient population, some estimate that up to sixty percent will develop a drug tolerance that makes their mediciation eventually useless."

On the subject of side-effects, Slater writes that drugs cannot target with single- minded specificity -- even though we are told by the doctors that meds used to treat things such as ADHD target/affect only one or two very specific neurotransmitters (a strange boast, in any event, given the fact that there are tons of different neurotransmitters, and doctors will be the first to admit that no one really understands or knows how these medications really work!).

As Slater puts it, "Drugs are like oil spills; they leak everywhere...."

So, maybe, just maybe, my very unscientific surveys really do reflect reality. At a minimimum, I think it's fair to say that these psychotropic medications aren't nearly as effective or safe as we are led to believe.

By the way, I get way better results at my center -- just ask my parents. And, guess what? The only side-effects my kids suffer from are better health, stronger bodies, and new friends.