Study reveals ‘concerning’ rise in antipsychotic drugs being prescribed to children

From The Guardian comes this article by Natasha May about a new study showing an increase in antipsychotics for kids in Australia, the vast majority prescribed off-label, frequently for anxiety:

“Sienna* [names have been changed] was “hyperactive from birth” – rolling, crawling, walking ahead of time. But her active nature brought with it increasing difficulty managing her emotions as she grew up.

By the age of four, her mother Rachel* could no longer drive the car without Sienna throwing her shoes at her.

At preschool, Sienna bit and scratched other children, ripped up their artwork and threw sand.

Rachel took her daughter to a developmental paediatrician. . . . However, when the doctor offered her a script for the antipsychotic drug risperidone, Rachel wasn’t sure. It is usually used to treat serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. . . . 

‘It was really hard, I was very conscious that we’ve got a little growing developing brain here,’ Rachel said. ‘On the one hand, they’re telling me we can’t diagnose her with anything because she’s too young – but on the other hand, they’re saying: “Here, take an antipsychotic that would probably knock a 20-year-old man out.”‘

A study led by the University of Adelaide has found Australian doctors are increasingly prescribing antipsychotic drugs to children and adolescents.

Published recently in the journal JCPP Advances, the study’s authors analysed the de-identified electronic health records of children and adolescents under 19 years of age, taken from a large general practice database. . . . Of the 8,418 children and adolescents diagnosed with a mental illness in 2011, 191 (2%) were prescribed antipsychotics, the researchers found.

By 2017, this rose to 2.9%, with 893 of the 27,412 children and adolescents with mental illness prescribed antipsychotics. It is a rise the study authors described as significant. Of these prescriptions, 70% were ‘off-label’ in 2011, which rose to 80% in 2017. The most common diagnosis among children prescribed antipsychotics was depression or anxiety. . . .

Prof Dave Coghill, the chair of developmental mental health at the University of Melbourne, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘I think probably these medications are overused as ways of controlling difficult or aggressive behaviours.’

‘I think there are lots of non-drug ways that we can manage those behaviours, and one of the problems is, of course, people have great difficulty accessing those kinds of supports.'”

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