Dosing Kids with Drugs to Shut Them Up is Child Abuse, Study Says

Filed under: In The News, Home Remedies, Feeding & Sleeping, Research Reveals: Babies, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Big Kids

Does your kid really need that dose of cough medicine? Credit: Corbis

Many over-the-counter allergy and cold medications may cause drowsiness.

Hmm, really?

Quit bouncing off the walls for a minute, son. Daddy wants to give you something ...

Stop! Don't do it! A lot of parents joke about drugging their rambunctious kids into submission -- preferably with one of those tranquilizer darts from "Wild Kingdom."

Using Benadryl as a baby-sitter, however, is a form of child abuse, according to a study in the latest issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

Dr. Shan Yin, a toxicology fellow at the University of Colorado, led the study and concludes that there are at least 160 reported cases a year where parents severely and maliciously control their children with drugs.

The key word there is "reported." Countless more cases fly under the radar.

The drugs range from illegal street narcotics to prescription and over-the-counter pain killers, stimulants, sedatives, antipsyhotics and cough/cold medications.

Yin and his team gathered information from the National Poison Data System.

Amitava Dasgupta, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, tells ABC News parents should never give cough medicine or pain killers to children under 2 without asking a physician.

And meds should never be given to kids just to shut them up, he adds. Dasgupta tells ABC News he agrees with Yin and the other researchers: It's a form of child abuse -- and should be a criminal offense.

Researchers found 14 percent of the reported cases between 2000 and 2008 resulted in moderate to major consequences. They also found 18 children died -- 17 from sedatives.

Carolyn Riley, 35, of Massachusetts was sentenced to life in prison in February after she sent her 4-year-old daughter to bed after giving her toxic levels of pyschotropic drugs. The little girl never woke up.

That may have been an extreme case, but Dasgupta tells ABC News many parents -- especially young ones -- don't think over-the-counter meds are any big deal. They're wrong, he says.

"Because a child or infant's body is not an adult body, pharmaceuticals can be dangerous," Dasgupta tells the network.

Doping kids "is likely to have cascading effects on the developing biology of children and even potentially long-term effects," Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, tells ABC News.

Yin's study couldn't determine parents' exact motivations. Pediatric experts tell ABC News parents might use meds to punish children or just get a few minutes of peace.

"If a child is very irritable and colicky, a parent may try to use cough and cold syrup to keep the child quiet, especially if the parent is overwhelmed and immature and thinks the child is doing this on purpose," Dr. Lea DeFrancisci Lis, an associate clinical professor at New York University School of Medicine, tells ABC News.

Researchers are not mind readers, James Hmurovich, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America, tells the New York Daily News. They can't really know parents' motivations. Therefore, he adds, it's difficult to generalize the practice of medicating kids as child abuse.

Jill Smokler, a mother and blogger at ScaryMommy.com, writes on her blog that she has sympathy for the parents.

"I suppose it's better than screaming at or beating a kid when all your buttons are being pushed," she writes.

Smokler admits on her blog she once gave her 18-month-old daughter Benadryl, hoping the child would sleep through a two-hour flight.

"The plan backfired," Smokler writes on the blog. "She was wired. The flight was a disaster, and that was the end of that. Since then, I have never given my children medication as a way to benefit me. Lesson learned."

Nonetheless, she adds, she's not going to judge other parents. "I'm hardly a perfect parent," she writes. "Obviously, drugging your child is not a good idea. Big, fat f***ng duh. Neither is beating them or losing it on an airplane full of 200 people."

Related: More Kids Buzzing On Abuse Of ADHD Drugs

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