Updated: May 10, 2021
The email from a young mother was quite frantic. I receive a few calls and mails a week from parents who are unsatisfied with medication or are concerned about side effects, but this letter seemed more pressing. The mother described a situation whereby her 5 year old daughter, diagnosed with ADHD, had been taking a drug called Guanfacine, and the neurologist had decided to add another drug because the first was not fully calming the little girl down.
As soon as the new drug was added to the cocktail, the child became unrecognizable to her parents. Although she had had tantrums and some aggressive behavior prior to medicating, her behavior was now out of control. She was beating her younger siblings, hurting herself and destroying property. The parents wanted to discontinue medication but the doctor and school were asking her to ride it out, to see if the situation would stabilize.
I had not heard of the drug Guanfacine. So I turned to Dr. Google for some help. What I discovered was horrifying on every level. Let's start at the beginning. This drug strangely has two trade names, Tenex and Intuniv (think: in tune). This is surprising as they are both the exact same medication, with the very same active ingredient. So why the two names? Tenex is a medication developed to reduce high blood pressure. It causes blood vessels to relax so that the blood can flow more easily. It also slows down heart rate. It has some nasty side effects like any medication. It can cause drowsiness, dizziness, tiredness, weakness and fainting spells among other symptoms. Why would a 5 year old child with ADHD symptoms need a blood pressure reducing drug?
Why would a 5 year old child with ADHD symptoms need a blood pressure reducing drug?
Here's where is gets really disturbing. The drug Tenex (the one for adults with high blood pressure) is prescribed to be taken at night. Why? So that the patient can sleep through the dizzy spells, drowsiness and weakness. That makes sense. As long as the drug is doing its job, why would a person be forced to suffer with such punishing side effects? Here are the Shire instructions: "If you take Tenex to treat hypertension, you may need to take your dose at bedtime if guanfacine causes severe drowsiness". So what about Intuniv (the very same drug, but this time for small children with ADHD symptoms, without high blood pressure)? The recommended consumption of this drug is in the morning! These are the instructions from Shire: "If you take Intuniv to treat ADHD- take your dose in the morning". Why would the pharmaceutical company Shire allow these little kids to suffer all of those side effects while they are trying to function in school? It would seem that the goal of reducing blood pressure in children who do not have blood pressure problems to begin with is in order to produce the side effects. The side effects which we try to avoid with adults are the desired mechanism of action in children.
But it gets worse. Although Tenex and Intuniv are the very same drug, the information provided by the company is different in a few key areas. First of all, for Tenex the patient is told not to do any activity that requires alertness. In addition, it mentions that children may be more sensitive to the side effects of the drug than adults, and they are especially at risk of having hallucinations and mood changes. This warning is not mentioned in the Intuniv information.
Lets take a quick look at some of the symptoms of low blood pressure, since a child taking Intuniv will have his blood pressure reduced. Symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, nausea, fatigue and lack of concentration. If we placed the side effects of both Tenex and Intuniv side by side with the symptoms of low blood pressure, they very neatly line up. So, once again, why would we want to prescribe a drug that causes drowsiness and lack of concentration to a child who is having trouble focusing and concentrating? And how did this drug get FDA approval for ADHD treatment? Shire itself states that "the mechanism of action of guanfacine in ADHD is not known".
Here is where the story gets downright sleazy. The Psychiatrist leading the charge to medicate children with Intuniv is Dr. Joseph Biederman. The New York Times (The 'selling of Attention Deficit Disorder, 2013/12/15) is quoted as saying "Many of the scientific studies cited by drug company speakers involved Dr. Joseph Biederman, a prominent child psychiatrist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2008 a senate investigation revealed that Dr. Beiderman's research on many psychiatric conditions has been substantially financed by drug companies, including Shire. Those companies also paid him $1.6 million in speaking and consulting fees. He has denied that the payments influenced his research." In the book "Pediatric Psychopharmaclogy" these is a disclosure of financial interest related to Dr. Biederman. It states that the doctor is currently receiving support from Shire...., consulting fees and speaking fees. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The FDA approval for a drug prescribed to children is based on double blind placebo controlled studies funded by Shire, conducted by the eminent Dr. Biederman and colleagues.
Here's the shocking truth. Pharmaceutical companies are for profit companies in a capitalistic world. Their interest is their bottom line. They have share holders who are expecting their stock value to increase consistently. Your child and his health and well being are not their concern. Their goal is to get medications approved and to market as soon as possible. If that requires repackaging an old drug for a new purpose, why not? If a few corrupt doctors a willing to take a bribe to push the product, even better! If the FDA is willing to accept proof of safety and efficacy based on studies funded and conducted by the company selling the pill, its a perfect setup. Everyone win... except for your sweet little lab rat.
This pill pushing for profit story is one of many. So what is a parent to do? I urge you all not to donate your child to the capitalistic laboratory. He is not a lab rat! A young child can be medicated with parental permission alone.
You are your child's only advocate. Please, do your homework. When a doctor recommends a drug, ask questions, do research and get a 2nd opinion. Don't wait until your child becomes unrecognizable to you, and then run for help. In some cases it may be too late.
When a doctor recommends a drug, ask questions, do research and get a 2nd opinion. Don't wait until your child becomes unrecognizable to you, and then run for help.
Your child is HEALTHY, and is struggling. Do not accept from anyone that your child has any disorder that requires mind and body altering medication without a serious conversation and medical evaluation. Ask for a complete exam, find out what alternative therapies are available, always select the least invasive option first.
Get help finding the source of the problem, and use medication as a last resort.
Your child deserves it!