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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.

Since pharma discovered the ka-ching in pediatric pharmacology, millions of kids are on ADHD meds and other mental drugs for conduct disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, mood disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, mixed manias, social phobia, anxiety, and assorted "spectrum" disorders.

But according to new data from IMS health in a Wall Street Journal article, just as many kids are being treated for non-psychiatric conditions that are often "adult diseases."

Since 2001, high blood pressure meds for kids have risen 17 percent, respiratory meds 42 percent, diabetes meds 150 percent and heartburn/GERD meds 147 percent. Fifty percent of pediatricians also prescribe kids insomnia drugs, according to an article in the journal Pediatrics.

In fact, 25 percent of children and 30 percent of adolescents now take at least one prescription for a chronic condition says Medco, the nation's largest pharmacy benefit manager, making the kid prescription market four times as strong as the adult in 2009.

Why? Well one reason is the ped population is suffering from "middle age spread," just like the adult population; the result of too many calories and too little exercise. Over a third of U.S. kids are overweight and 17 percent are obese -- which for a 4-foot-10 inch child would be 143 pounds. Obesity predisposes someone to diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, gallbladder disease and the osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal disorders.

But rather than encourage children to unplug and get out, medical professionals increasingly succumb to pharma's message, "Don't change your lifestyle, pop a pill."

This is especially effective with kids because, "Children are known to be compliant patients and that makes them a highly desirable market for drugs," says former pharma rep Gwen Olsen, author of Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher. "Children are forced by school personnel to take their drugs, they are forced by their parents to take their drugs, and they are forced by their doctors to take their drugs. So, children are the ideal patient type because they represent refilled prescription compliance and 'longevity.' In other words, they will be lifelong patients and repeat customers for pharma."

So in between ads for M&Ms, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Oreos, Hershey's Milk Chocolate and Doritos, kids and their parents see drug ads that enable sedentary and obese lifestyles. And the national "epidemics" of GERD, "seasonal allergies" and "statin deficiencies" not surprisingly began when pharma began advertising Prilosec, Claritins and Zocor directly to consumers in the late-1990s.

One reason this can be a problem is that kids react differently to medicines, says Duke University pediatrics professor Danny Benjamin in the Wall Street Journal. In a third of FDA studies, what was thought to be the right dose for a kid, wasn't. Long-term safety in kids is also "almost never known," says Benjamin, since ped studies, like all drugs studies, are of short duration. (Wait seven years before taking a new drug unless you want to be an uncompensated tester, drug safety advocates say.)

Consider statins like Lipitor, the world's top-selling medication, which was approved for U.S. children in 2008 and recently in a chewable form in Europe. (Move over Froot Loops and Flinstone gummies.) Over-prescribed, of debatable effectiveness in reducing heart attack, less desirable than lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol and expensive, statins are six times more likely to cause liver dysfunction, acute kidney failure, cataracts and muscle damage in adult patients, says a 2010 article in the British Medical Journal. Let's give them to kids?

Statins are also linked to nerve damage, memory loss, sleep disturbances, impotence, breasts in men, a lupus-like syndrome and acute, usually mild, pancreatitis in an observational study, says the Medical Letter, though cause and effect are not clear.

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