Are Psychiatrists Overprescribing Antipsychotic Drugs for Children?

Twenty years ago, it was not very common for young children to receive medications for mental health problems, however, there has been rapid changes over the last few decades in the amount of antipsychotics doctors are willing to prescribe. Common diagnoses children are given a prescription drug to help cope with include the following:

  • Bipolar
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Currently, research shows that one-third of children under a psychiatrist’s care will receive an antipsychotic medication of one form or another. Frighteningly, many of these drugs are for “off-label” use, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved the drug to be used for that purpose.

Author of a new study on this topic, Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, further explains, “The growth in antipsychotic treatment of children — roughly eightfold in 17 years — is especially impressive.”

Are There Any Safety Concerns for Children Prescribed Such Potent Drugs?

Experts in the psychology field worry that these skyrocketing rates of antipsychotic drug use on rapidly growing brains and bodies may have some unknown consequences as the prescription of them has surpassed the research to back it up. Many mental health professionals caution that there are strong side effects for many of the drugs. In addition, the ability of the prescriptions to quell the symptoms they are given for often has never been proven. The FDA has approved the use of antipsychotic meds for the following disorders:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Symptoms of mania for bipolar disorder
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Irritability related to autism

Nevertheless, Olfson’s research team found these approved disorders and symptoms made up only a small fraction of the mental health issues that doctors were treating with the antipsychotic meds. Risperidone was prescribed to young people most often, despite questions of its effectiveness and safety for diagnoses such as ADHD.

Olfson said: “Although antipsychotic medications can deliver rapid improvement in children with severe conduct problems and aggressive behaviors, it is not clear whether they are helpful for the larger group of children with ADHD.”

Research has shown these medications may produce rapid weight gain as well as put kids at an elevated risk for diabetes. No long-term studies have been done analyzing the lasting effects the drugs may cause for cognitive and emotional functioning.

Why Are We Seeing an Increase in Antipsychotics for Kids and Teens?

The researchers gave the following possible explanations as to why the drugs are being increasingly prescribed to young people:

  • Increased diagnosis rates for mental health disorders
  • More prescriptions hit the market every year, giving doctors new possibilities for treatment
  • Far fewer kids are receiving talk therapy and other psychosocial interventions to deal with the problem

Do you think doctors should be allowed to prescribe drugs in an “off-label” fashion to kids? Tell us your feelings below.

Please Share This

Comments are closed.