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8-Year-Olds on Cholesterol Meds? Is Big Pharma Pumping Kids Full of Dangerous Drugs?

With childhood obesity on the rise, many kids are suffering from adult ailments. But Big Pharma's role in pushing adult drugs on kids requires a closer look.

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"Plenty of adults down statins regularly and shine off healthy eating because they know a cheeseburger and steak can't fool a statin," writes Dr. Michael J. Breus on the Huffington Post. "Imagine a 10-year-old who loves his fast food and who knows he can get away with it if he pops his pills."

Another pharma strategy on children is trying to get babies on GERD medicine.

Even though the approximately 71 times a day that babies spit up is considered perfectly normal and does not damage the esophagus, the number of GERD prescriptions for babies has recently quadrupled, writes pediatrician Darshak Sanghavi. The drugs don't treat baby reflux but they "may increase brain bleeds and gut damage in preterm infants as well as the risk of food allergies in older infants," says Dr. Sanghavi, author of the bestselling A Map of the Child. Oops.

Since the pricey "Purple Pill" heartburn drug Prilosec debuted over a decade ago, followed by Nexium, proton pump inhibitor drugs (PPIs) that switch off stomach acid producing cells have become veritable "purple crack" say U.S. doctors.

And even though heartburn is not a valid indicator of GERD -- it can exist without esophageal damage and vice verse -- and PPIs are often prescribed for intestinal tract pain where no hydrochloric acid even exists, half of all hospital inpatients are now put on PPIs, writes Dr. Sanghavi. (The head of Medicaid and Medicare admonished AMA doctors in 2003, "You should be embarrassed if you prescribe Nexium, because it increases costs with no medical benefits.")

PPIs can cause exactly what they are supposed to prevent -- heartburn and reflux -- when patients try to quit. They increase the risk of bone fractures in women by 25 percent, angioplasty-related deaths and intestinal infections. (Infections with Clostridium difficile are sometimes treated with -- sorry! No euphemism! -- fecal transfusions to replenish lost bacteria.)

And in kids? Common adverse effects of PPIs in children include headache, abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, diarrhea and increased risk of community-acquired pneumonia, say medical sources.

Nor is it just pharma that is creating the drugged -- and multi-drugged -- child patient.

Medical professionals can also be to blame for "clinical laziness," says Dr. Sanghavi. "Nexium is over-prescribed for the most banal of reasons: It's less work to write a prescription and pretend the problem is solved."

Martha Rosenberg frequently writes about the impact of the pharmaceutical, food and gun industries on public health. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and other outlets.

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