Everybody Gets High, Everybody Gets Low …

Rumor has it there’s a new trend taking hold among the young and the restless in social networking land. If your kiddos get out of hand, or are just plain annoying, dosing ’em up with a smidge of cold medicine or a sedative will take the edge off … for Mom, at least. And you can get plenty of advice out there about which drugs work best and how much.

A new report due to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Pediatrics reviewed 1,400 cases of what’s known as “malicious medication”, and documented the use of alcohol, cough and cold medicines, pain killers, sedatives, sleeping pills, and antipsychotics that were given to calm unruly kids. Nearly 14% of these cases led to serious consequences for the kids — including death.

The findings highlight a serious problem, according to study author Dr. Shan Yin, of the University of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center at Denver Health. “The malicious administration of pharmaceuticals should be considered an important form of child abuse,” Yin says.

Pretty shocking, isn’t it? You’d never do that, would you?

Well, before you get your righteous indignation in a wad, pause and reflect for a moment. Many of us (OK, most of us) have tried, or at least thought about, medicating our little ones to get through long plane rides, right? And maybe at the tail-end of a cold, if yours was still a bit crabby and over-tired, even though the stuffy nose was pretty much gone you figured what the heck — one last dose of cold medicine before bed couldn’t hurt, could it?

So maybe we’ve all been perched on the edge of that slippery slope. And maybe this is the logical outcome in the age of tweets and facebook status updates. One mom tells another, and soon it’s gone viral. If everyone’s doing it, it must be okay.

Here’s another thing: we talk a lot about what you model for your kids. It’s that monkey-see-monkey-do rule of parenting. So do we medicate too much? It’s become commonplace to medicalize our bad moods, our sleeplessness, our grief and our worries, and take a pill to soothe them, so why not do the same for our kiddos? Has a spoonful of Benadryl for Junior taken the place of a couple of martinis to get through that 5 PM pre-dinner meltdown?

Are we all guilty of a little bit of malicious medication? What if …

… they came up with Children’s Ambien. Just like the grown-up version — just a smaller dose to get the little guys down for the night. You could rest assured that 30 minutes after the stuff passed their lips they’d be out, even if you hadn’t finished reading Good Night Moon for the third time through. Would you give it? Occasionally? If you’d had a REALLY bad day?

… the pediatrician recommended you give Benadryl to your 3 year old to help dry up inner ear fluid that didn’t require antibiotics, but might if it sat there too long. You noticed that your kiddo responded really well. He was unusually happy, slept better, and the ear pain was gone by morning. A miracle! Would you tend to give it again … for a lesser reason?

… your baby has the worst EVER case of colic. I’m talking several (like 5+) hours of shrill crying each night between 9 PM and 2 AM … or more. It’s excruciating for you and for her. Your great aunt tells you about the good old days, when colicky babies were given phenobarb (a strong barbiturate) to soothe them. It worked. She happens to know a doc who’s willing to prescribe it. Would you …?

We mention these hypothetical situations to point out that it’s not black or white. There are always extenuating circumstances. Is it always abusive?

We sure don’t know the answer, but we’re worried about that slippery slope. All of us are teetering on the edge. Weigh in.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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