4 year old's overdose raises questions

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Babies, Development/Milestones: Babies

At 2 years old, Rebecca Riley was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity and bipolar disorder. Last December, she died at the age of 4 from an overdose of medications prescribed by her psychiatrist to treat her condition. Prosecutors claim Rebecca's parents, Carolyn and Michael Riley, were intentionally overmedicating her in order to keep her quiet and have charged them with murder. The Riley's say they were just following doctor's orders and accuse the psychiatrist who was treating Rebecca with over-prescribing medication.

Rebecca became a patient of psychiatrist Kayoko Kifuji in 2004. Based on brief office visits with the girl, the Riley family's mental health history and the girl's behavior as related by her mother, Kifuji diagnosed Rebecca with ADHD and bipolar disorder. Kifuji prescribed drugs that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in adults only, which is not uncommon and not illegal. When Rebecca died, she had a combination of Clonidine, Depakote, a cough suppressant and an antihistamine in her system. According to the medical examiner, the amount of Clonidine alone was enough to kill her.

Rebecca's death has raised questions as to whether a child as young as 2 can be accurately diagnosed with a mental illness. According to a study published last year by Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, the number of children prescribed anti-psychotic drugs jumped five times between 1995 and 2002 to an estimated 2.5 million. Many child psychiatrist attribute this jump to the fact that some children who have suffered from bipolar disorder may have been under-diagnosed because the symptoms are similar to those of ADHD.

Whether or not Rebecca was misdiagnosed will likely remain a mystery. The fact that Rebecca's siblings were also on medication and described as 'listless' by a neighbor leads me to wonder just what was going on in that house. Whether it was due to ignorance or malice, it is clear that this girl was given too much medication and now she is dead. Who is to blame?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.