Incomprehensibly Irresponsible: Brain Drugs and Babies

Laurie and Debbie say:

In 2008, we wrote “The Medicalization of Human Variety,” about how concerned we (and much of the medical establishment) were about the increase in prescribing Ritalin and other psychoactive drugs to schoolchildren.  We are shocked and saddened to find out how much worse things have gotten in the last seven years.

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Alan Schwarz, writing in the New York Times, details much nastier drugs than Ritalin, such as the antipsychotic risperidone (Risperdal) given to babies and toddlers. Schwarz reports “almost 20,000” such prescriptions were written in 2014,  a 50% jump from 2013. Prozac prescriptions for children that young are rising almost as fast.

We can’t even count the number of ways that this is horrible.

Brain science is itself in its infancy. Virtually all of the psychoactive medications prescribed today work by guesswork and hypothesis. We might know that a drug raises serotonin levels or reduces cortisol, but no one really understands why or how those chemical changes affect mood, behavior, resilience, et cetera. And no one understands what else these chemicals might be doing to the brain.

Whatever we do know about brains we know about adult brains. Children’s brains are incredibly plastic, growing at phenomenal speeds, and very little studied. In the case of Ritalin, it took medical scientists decades to understand that it affects children exactly the opposite way it affects adults. With newer drugs like Risperdal and even Prozac, the effects are unpredictable and could certainly be the opposite of what the prescribing doctor intends. Since we can’t ethically, morally, or as human beings experiment on living children to find out what works, this study has to proceed extraordinarily slowly and carefully.

… Dr. [Mary Margaret] Gleason, [a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at Tulane University] said that children with ages measured in months had brains whose neurological inner workings were developing too rapidly, and in still unknown ways, to risk using medications that can profoundly influence that growth. She said the medications had never been subject to formal clinical trials in infants and toddlers largely because of those dangers.

“There are not studies,” Dr. Gleason said, “and I’m not pushing for them.”

Perhaps most important, while some percentage of the children receiving these drugs have some kind of medical need that the drug at least might address, many of them are just behaving like children their age.  Schwarz uses the phrase “tempering chronically disruptive behavior,” which is easy-to-read code for “This kid is hard to manage.”

“There are behavioral ways of working with the problems rather than medication,” said Dr. [Ed] Tronick, [a professor of developmental and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston], who runs a program that teaches health care providers to assist families with troubled children. “What is generating such fear and anger and withdrawal in the child? What is frustrating or causing stress in the parent? These are the things that have to be explored. But that takes time and money.”

He also said something we said back in that 2008 post:

There’s this very narrow range of what people think the prototype child should look like. Deviations from that lead them to seek out interventions like these.

These kinds of “interventions,” these drug-based “solutions” to behavior that can almost certainly be addressed with patience, creativity, love, and (when appropriate) therapy, can destroy a child’s life, destroy a family’s life, and damage everyone who cares about that child and family.

It’s bad enough that these drugs are officially available to children in the 8-10 range depending on the drug. It’s bad enough (though completely not surprising) that the pharmaceutical companies getting rich off the drugs have stories of “positive effects among suffering young people” they can tell to line their pockets. Some of those stories are probably true, but you can bet your last dollar that they are cherry-picked from a set of mostly miserable-to-neutral stories. What’s worse is that too many people don’t care about our society’s children enough to protect them from harmful chemical intervention; we just want them to shut up, behave right, and not bother anybody.

Children are a global treasure; they’re the hope we have. They have a right to grow up whole and complete and uninvaded.

 

Menstruation: Not a Fit Subject for Tender Male Eyes

Debbie says:

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Outfront Media, which places ads in the New York City subways for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, thinks this ad “seem[s] to have a bit too much skin.” As Christina Cauterucci points out at Slate, “The ads that plaster New York City’s subway system have shown women in the throes of passion, showing off most of their breasts, and wearing just a skimpy bikini—or nothing at all.”

I never gave a thought to blood-absorbing underwear until I saw Cauterucci’s article. Now I wish I had been able to try it when I needed it. If it works, it would be amazing. And if it doesn’t work, it’s probably the forerunner of something that will–if Thinx and their competitors can get enough exposure and customers to keep experimenting.

So if Outfront Media claims that woman is showing too much skin, what do they think of this ad?

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“Regardless of the context,” Outfront wrote about this ad and one with an egg dripping out of its shell, “they “[seem] inappropriate.” Sure they do. We all know Outfront wouldn’t have an issue with an image that looked like a penis, as long as it wasn’t an actual, human-skin penis.

“Regardless of context,” is a big lie. Cauterucci relays from Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal that

the rep also asked what a 9-year-old boy might think if he saw the ads and how his mother could explain them to him. One imagines that a 9-year-old boy who rides the New York City subway has seen more objectionable images and heard crasser language, both in ads—such as one for the Museum of Sex that depicted fleshy, intertwined body parts inside the words “Hard Core”—and from fellow subway patrons.

Note that it’s a 9-year-old boy and his mother, which exposes some assumptions. And I bet the Outfront rep isn’t a parent, because parents quickly get good at dodging questions they don’t want to answer. Not to mention the huge benefit some parents might see in *gasp* answering the question.

Outfront Media, a company with predominantly male leadership and a completely male sales staff, isn’t reacting to the visuals of the ads, all of which they would accept without question for another product.  They say “regardless of context,” yet context is the only issue in play here. They just plain don’t want to imagine menstruation, and they don’t think subway riders do either. Of course, more than 50% of subway riders are women, and a very substantial proportion of those women don’t have to imagine menstruation; they think about the subject approximately four days out of every 28. But that doesn’t matter to the dudebros at Outfront.

Underlying the general (male/commodified/corporate) perception that sex is okay but menstruation is disgusting is this underlying dogma:

Women’s bodies are interesting and important when the context is looking and handling.  The same women’s bodies are not fit for public consumption when the context is lived experience. The power structure that can keep these ads out of the New York City subway  is dangerously close to the power structure that closes abortion clinics and tries to defund Planned Parenthood.

The same women’s bodies that adorn the sexiest posters, the most enticing porn videos, the most lust-inducing wet dreams are the bodies that drip blood once a month for forty years or so. And after thousands of years of letting men turn away from this information, maybe it’s centuries past time to have menstruation ads be at least as common as Viagra ads.