Think Twice Before Giving Antipsychotics to Young People

According to a new report, during the past several years, antipsychotics have gained popularity as treatments for psychiatric disorders in young people. The number of teens and young adults who are being prescribed antipsychotics is on the rise, yet little is known about trends and patterns of their use in the United States.

Be cautious with antipsychotics

“Great caution should be exercised in the use of antipsychotics, especially for young children,” said lead study author Dr. Mark Olfson, a research psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York, Reuters reported.

Olfson and his team of researchers analyzed prescription data from 2006, 2008, and 2010 as well as records from 2009 combining pharmacy and medical claims information, and found that the percentage of teens and young adults using antipsychotics has increased.

Thanks to awareness campaigns about the potential long-term health risks associated with such medications, the number appears to have decreased for younger children such as preschool-aged kids.

Data published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry unveiled that overall in 2010, approximately 270,000 antipsychotic prescriptions were distributed to younger children, 2.14 million to older children, 2.80 million to adolescents, and 1.83 million to young adults, researchers calculated.

Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder

The study found that among children 18 and under, the most common reason for antipsychotics was to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This diagnosis accounted for about 53 percent of prescriptions for younger children, 60 percent for older kids, and 35 percent of teens.

This is a condition for which powerful drugs such as Abilify (aripiprazole), Risperdal (risperidone), Seroquel (quetiapine) and Zyprexa (olanzapine) are not approved.

Worryingly a high percentage of antipsychotic prescriptions were received from nonpsychiatrists, the study found.

Behavioral health disorders different from severe psychiatric illness

“This is concerning because evidence of antipsychotics’ efficacy for treating a number of behavioral health disorders is lacking,” Meredith Matone, a research scientist with PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told Reuters.

In the U.S. antipsychotic are approved to treat conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, experts said, not to treat behavior problems such as ADHD which is one of the most common childhood brain disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. “Increasingly, many youth are receiving these medications to treat behavior problems in the absence of a more severe psychiatric illness,” Matone said.

Adverse effects of antipsychotics

Studies suggest that antipsychotic medications increase the risk of harm to the cardiovascular and metabolic health of young people raising concerns among experts regarding adverse effect burden.

The authors of the research recommend carrying out a comprehensive psychiatric assessment and a trial of a relevant psychosocial intervention — notably in preschool-aged children — before considering psychopharmacological treatment in young people.

Alternative treatments — for behavioral disorders in particular — should be explored before parents agree to start their child on antipsychotics, researchers advise.