Teachers as Drug Therapists?

An estimated 11 million children in the US take at least one psychiatric drug. They've been diagnosed as needing medical treatment for a perceived behavioral problem, whether it's labeled anger, aggression, depression, impulsiveness, or attention-deficit disorder.

And the number of children on such drugs has been steadily rising over the past several years.

What's behind this disturbing trend?

Many members of Congress suspect too many teachers and school administrators are increasingly unwilling to deal with unruly students, and have subtly coerced many parents into putting their children on such drugs.

As a result, the House of Representatives passed the Child Medication Safety Act last year. The bill would block federal money to any school that applies such pressure on parents. It was approved 425 to 1. But since then, it's been bottled up in a Senate committee on the claim that the subject needs further study.

The bill's key provision calls for states to implement procedures preventing school personnel from requiring parents to put children on behavior-controlling prescriptions as a condition for them to attend school.

That is more than reasonable. Teachers should not take on a doctor's diagnostic role. Indeed, it's up to parents to decide to seek expert help - whether medical help, counseling, spiritual guidance, or special schooling - to find assistance for a child.

The political resistance in the Senate to the House-passed bill is puzzling. It's assumed by many advocates of the measure that national teachers' unions and pharmaceutical companies - both of which are highly influential on Capitol Hill - prefer the upward trend in the use of these drugs. That trend includes an unfortunate denial of parental rights, not to mention putting children on drugs when alternatives are available.

Even though medical science offers more and more behavior-altering drugs, both parents and educators should not abdicate their responsibility to bring the loving skills of patience, discipline, or genial persuasion to children in need of correction.

Further, the long-term effects of various psychotropic drugs are still the subject of medical study - reason enough to slow down the rush to prescribe them. And there's concern that at least one form of anti-depressant drugs may make children (and adults) suicidal.

But note: The House bill also says that school personnel shouldn't construe the wording as constituting a prohibition against their "consulting or sharing classroom-based observations with parents or guardians regarding a student's academic performance or behavior."

It won't be easy for states to define when a school is coercing parents or simply recommending drug treatment. But the message from government in this act will be clear: Drugs can't be a quick fix for schools.

The Senate should not delay in bringing this bill to a floor vote before this trend toward drugging every troubled kid continues much further.

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