Archive for the ‘NIMH’ Category

By ALAN SCHWARZ

More than 10,000 American toddlers 2 or 3 years old are being medicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder outside established pediatric guidelines, according to data presented on Friday by an official at the Center.

The report, which found that toddlers covered by Medicaid are particularly prone to be put on medication such as Ritalin and Adderall, is among the first efforts to gauge the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. in children below age 4. Doctors at the Georgia Mental Health Forum at the Carter Center in Atlanta, where the data was presented, as well as several outside experts strongly criticized the use of medication in so many children that young.

The American Academy of Pediatrics standard practice guidelines for A.D.H.D. do not even address the diagnosis in children 3 and younger — let alone the use of such stimulant medications, because their safety and effectiveness have barely been explored in that age group. “It’s absolutely shocking, and it shouldn’t be happening,” said Anita Zervigon-Hakes, a children’s mental health consultant to the Carter Center. “People are just feeling around in the dark. We obviously don’t have our act together for little children.”

Dr. Lawrence H. Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., said in a telephone interview: “People prescribing to 2-year-olds are just winging it. It is outside the standard of care, and they should be subject to malpractice if something goes wrong with a kid.”

Friday’s report was the latest to raise concerns about A.D.H.D. diagnoses and medications for American children beyond what many experts consider medically justified. Last year, a nationwide C.D.C. survey found that 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 have received a diagnosis of the disorder, and that about one in five boys will get one during childhood.

A vast majority are put on medications such as methylphenidate (commonly known as Ritalin) or amphetamines like Adderall, which often calm a child’s hyperactivity and impulsivity but also carry risks for growth suppression, insomnia and hallucinations.

Only Adderall is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children below age 6. However, because off-label use of methylphenidate in preschool children had produced some encouraging results, the most recent American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines authorized it in 4- and 5-year-olds — but only after formal training for parents and teachers to improve the child’s environment were unsuccessful.

Children below age 4 are not covered in those guidelines because hyperactivity and impulsivity are developmentally appropriate for toddlers, several experts said, and more time is needed to see if a disorder is truly present.

Susanna N. Visser, who oversees the C.D.C.’s research on the disorder, compiled Friday’s report through two sources: Medicaid claims in Georgia and claims by privately insured families nationwide kept by MarketScan, a research firm. Her report did not directly present a total number of toddlers 2 and 3 years old nationwide being medicated for the disorder, however her data suggested a number of at least 10,000 and perhaps many more.

Dr. Visser’s analysis of Georgia Medicaid claims found about one in 225 toddlers being medicated for A.D.H.D., or 760 cases in that state alone. Dr. Visser said that nationwide Medicaid data were not yet available, but Georgia’s rates of the disorder are very typical of the United States as a whole.

“If we applied Georgia’s rate to the number of toddlers on Medicaid nationwide, we would expect at least 10,000 of those to be on A.D.H.D. medication,” Dr. Visser said in an interview. She added that MarketScan data suggested that an additional 4,000 toddlers covered by private insurance were being medicated for the disorder.

Dr. Visser said that effective nonpharmacological treatments, such as teaching parents and day care workers to provide more structured environments for such children, were often ignored. “Families of toddlers with behavioral problems are coming to the doctor’s office for help, and the help they’re getting too often is a prescription for a Class II controlled substance, which has not been established as safe for that young of a child,” Dr. Visser said. “It puts these children and their developing minds at risk, and their health is at risk.”

Very few scientific studies have examined the use of stimulant medications in young children. A prominent 2006 study found that methylphenidate could mollify A.D.H.D.-like symptoms in preschoolers, but only about a dozen 3-year-olds were included in the study, and no 2-year-olds. Most researchers on that study, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, had significant financial ties to pharmaceutical companies that made A.D.H.D. medications.

Some doctors said in interviews on Friday that they understood the use of stimulant medication in 2- and 3-year-olds under rare circumstances.

Keith Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University who since the 1960s has been one of A.D.H.D.’s most prominent figures, said that he had occasionally recommended it when nothing else would calm a toddler who was a harm to himself or others.

Dr. Doris Greenberg, a behavioral pediatrician in Savannah, Ga., who attended Dr. Visser’s presentation, said that methylphenidate can be a last resort for situations that have become so stressful that the family could be destroyed. She cautioned, however, that there should not be 10,000 such cases in the United States a year.

“Some of these kids are having really legitimate problems,” Dr. Greenberg said. “But you also have overwhelmed parents who can’t cope and the doctor prescribes as a knee-jerk reaction. You have children with depression or anxiety who can present the same way, and these medications can just make those problems worse.”

Dr. Visser said she could offer no firm explanation for why she found toddlers covered by Medicaid to be medicated for the disorder far more often than those covered by private insurance.

Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist and director of school-based programs at Cambridge Health Alliance outside Boston who specializes in underprivileged youth, said that some home environments can lead to behavior often mistaken for A.D.H.D., particularly in the youngest children.

“In acting out and being hard to control, they’re signaling the chaos in their environment,” Dr. Rappaport said. “Of course only some homes are like this — but if you have a family with domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or a parent neglecting a 2-year-old, the kid might look impulsive or aggressive. And the parent might just want a quick fix, and the easiest thing to do is medicate. It’s a travesty.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/17/us/among-experts-scrutiny-of-attention-disorder-diagnoses-in-2-and-3-year-olds.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=1

A new study has found that activating natural resilience in the brain could reduce susceptibility for stress in mice, and potentially humans.

Depressive behaviors in mice are often linked to “out-of-balance” neuron activity in the brain’s reward circuit. Suppressing or stopping this hyperactive neuron activity was typically thought to treat this susceptibility to depression or anxiety — but the new study has found quite the opposite.

“To our surprise, neurons in this circuit harbor their own self-tuning, homeostatic mechanism of natural resilience,” Ming-Hu Han of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, explained in a press release. What this means is that instead of suppressing this excessive neuron activity, boosting it provided a self-stabilizing response, re-establishing balance and producing an antidepressant-like effect.

The mice that were once vulnerable to being anxious, listless, depressed or withdrawn after socially stressful experiences stopped exhibiting these behaviors after their neuron activity received a boost. “As we get to the bottom of a mystery that has perplexed the field for more than a decade, the story takes an unexpected twist that may hold clues to future antidepressants that would at through this counterintuitive resilience mechanism,” Dr. Thomas Insel, NIMH Director, said in the press release.

In susceptible mice, neurons that secrete dopamine — a feel-good hormone — from a reward circuit area called the ventral tegmental area (VTA) become unusually hyperactive. This hyperaction was much higher in mice that were resilient to stress, “even though they were spared the runaway dopamine activity and depression-related behaviors,” the press release reads. Using this logic, the susceptible mice just needed a boost in activation in these neurons to produce resilience.

What is interesting about this study is that it points to the power of the body and brain’s self-correcting prowess. “Homeostatic mechanisms finely regulate other critical components of physiology required for survival — blood glucose and oxygen, body temperature, blood pressure,” Lois Winsky, chief of the NIMH Molecular, Cellular, and Genomic Neuroscience Research Branch, said in the press release. “Similar mechanisms appear to also maintain excitatory balance in brain cells. This study shows how they may regulate circuits underlying behavior.”

http://www.medicaldaily.com/boosting-excess-neuron-activity-builds-resilience-mice-vulnerable-depression-277452

dsm-5

Just weeks before the long-awaited publication of a new edition of the so-called bible of mental disorders, the federal government’s most prominent psychiatric expert has said the book suffers from a scientific “lack of validity.”

The expert, Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said in an interview Monday that his goal was to reshape the direction of psychiatric research to focus on biology, genetics and neuroscience so that scientists can define disorders by their causes, rather than their symptoms.

While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or D.S.M., is the best tool now available for clinicians treating patients and should not be tossed out, he said, it does not reflect the complexity of many disorders, and its way of categorizing mental illnesses should not guide research.

“As long as the research community takes the D.S.M. to be a bible, we’ll never make progress,” Dr. Insel said, adding, “People think that everything has to match D.S.M. criteria, but you know what? Biology never read that book.”

The revision, known as the D.S.M.-5 and the first since 1994, has stirred unprecedented questioning from the public, patient groups and, most fundamentally, senior figures in psychiatry who have challenged not only decisions about specific diagnoses but the scientific basis of the entire enterprise. Basic research into the biology of mental disorders and treatment has stalled, they say, confounded by the labyrinth of the brain.


Decades of spending on neuroscience have taught scientists mostly what they do not know, undermining some of their most elemental assumptions. Genetic glitches that appear to increase the risk of schizophrenia in one person may predispose others to autism-like symptoms, or bipolar disorder. The mechanisms of the field’s most commonly used drugs — antidepressants like Prozac, and antipsychosis medications like Zyprexa — have revealed nothing about the causes of those disorders. And major drugmakers have scaled back psychiatric drug development, having virtually no new biological “targets” to shoot for.

Dr. Insel is one of a growing number of scientists who think that the field needs an entirely new paradigm for understanding mental disorders, though neither he nor anyone else knows exactly what it will look like.

Even the chairman of the task force making revisions to the D.S.M., Dr. David J. Kupfer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, said the new manual was faced with doing the best it could with the scientific evidence available.

“The problem that we’ve had in dealing with the data that we’ve had over the five to 10 years since we began the revision process of D.S.M.-5 is a failure of our neuroscience and biology to give us the level of diagnostic criteria, a level of sensitivity and specificity that we would be able to introduce into the diagnostic manual,” Dr. Kupfer said.

The creators of the D.S.M. in the 1960s and ’70s “were real heroes at the time,” said Dr. Steven E. Hyman, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the Broad Institute and a former director at the National Institute of Mental Health. “They chose a model in which all psychiatric illnesses were represented as categories discontinuous with ‘normal.’ But this is totally wrong in a way they couldn’t have imagined. So in fact what they produced was an absolute scientific nightmare. Many people who get one diagnosis get five diagnoses, but they don’t have five diseases — they have one underlying condition.”

Dr. Hyman, Dr. Insel and other experts said they hoped that the science of psychiatry would follow the direction of cancer research, which is moving from classifying tumors by where they occur in the body to characterizing them by their genetic and molecular signatures.

About two years ago, to spur a move in that direction, Dr. Insel started a federal project called Research Domain Criteria, or RDoC, which he highlighted in a blog post last week. Dr. Insel said in the blog that the National Institute of Mental Health would be “reorienting its research away from D.S.M. categories” because “patients with mental disorders deserve better.” His commentary has created ripples throughout the mental health community.

Dr. Insel said in the interview that his motivation was not to disparage the D.S.M. as a clinical tool, but to encourage researchers and especially outside reviewers who screen proposals for financing from his agency to disregard its categories and investigate the biological underpinnings of disorders instead. He said he had heard from scientists whose proposals to study processes common to depression, schizophrenia and psychosis were rejected by grant reviewers because they cut across D.S.M. disease categories.

“They didn’t get it,” Dr. Insel said of the reviewers. “What we’re trying to do with RDoC is say actually this is a fresh way to think about it.” He added that he hoped researchers would also participate in projects funded through the Obama administration’s new brain initiative.

Dr. Michael First, a psychiatry professor at Columbia who edited the last edition of the manual, said, “RDoC is clearly the way of the future,” although it would take years to get results that could apply to patients. In the meantime, he said, “RDoC can’t do what the D.S.M. does. The D.S.M. is what clinicians use. Patients will always come into offices with symptoms.”

For at least a decade, Dr. First and others said, patients will continue to be diagnosed with D.S.M. categories as a guide, and insurance companies will reimburse with such diagnoses in mind.

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia and president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the D.S.M., said that the new edition’s refinements were “based on research in the last 20 years that will improve the utility of this guide for practitioners, and improve, however incrementally, the care patients receive.”

He added: “The last thing we want to do is be defensive or apologetic about the state of our field. But at the same time, we’re not satisfied with it either. There’s nothing we’d like better than to have more scientific progress.”