Anti-Psychotics Overprescribed to Kids



Over 389,000 children and teenagers were prescribed an atypical antipsychotic called Risperdal last year. More than 240,000 of these were under 12-years-old. The problem, according to a panel of federal drug experts that met Tuesday, is that many of the patients were given the drug to treat attention deficit disorders. Risperdal is not approved to treat ADD. The risks of Risperdal, which can be permanent, include weight gain, muscular tics, and metabolic disorders. Panel members say these risks are “too profound to justify its use” in treating ADD.

The panel was to meet to review the pediatric safety of Risperdal and Zyprexa, two atypical antipsychotics made by Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly & Company respectively. Officials from the FDA were hoping the committee would endorse the agency’s routine monitoring of the safety of the medications, as well as support previous efforts to highlight the risks. However, the panel unanimously rejected proposals put forth by the FDA. The panel says more needs to be done to discourage the growing use of these medications in children, especially to treat conditions the drugs are not meant for. Agency officials and spokespeople from the manufacturers said strongly worded warnings were already placed on the labels. Other drugs the panel is concerned about include Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon.

According to a report in the New York Times, prescription rates for these drugs has dramatically increased in the last 15 years, and they are now used by doctors to control aggression and outbursts in children by diagnosing them with a variety of issues. Children are particularly susceptible to the side effects of these antipsychotics.

One of the most popular diagnoses is pediatric bipolar disorder. A leading proponent of this diagnosis is Harvard University child psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman. Biederman’s work recently came under scrutiny after a Congressional investigation showed he had not reported nearly $1.4 million to the university he received as outside income from the makers of antipsychotics.

Psychiatrists have written a majority of the prescriptions for Risperdal, and these prescriptions given to children 17 years and under have increased ten percent in the last year. Over 1,200 children have suffered serious problems related to Risperdal since 1993, and 31 have died. This includes a nine-year-old who suffered a stroke almost two weeks after Risperdal treatment started for ADD. Eleven of those deaths were children whose treatment by Risperdal was not approved by the FDA.

Doctors from the FDA claim the agency can’t do much to fix the problem of off-label usage, and say medical specialy societies should be doing a better job at educating doctors about the side effects.