May 5, 2008
The number of children being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs not officially approved for youngsters has risen sharply since the early 1990s.
The increase – from a rate of four children per 10,000 in 1992 to seven youngsters per 10,000 in 2005 – was despite fears over side effects.
The use of the drugs designed for adults, which are prescribed for conditions such as hyperactivity and autism, tripled in children aged seven to 12-years-old.
But critics claim the medication, which can also be used to treat manic depression, may have side-effects such as weight gain and heart problems.
'The long-term risks of these drugs are, as yet, unknown', said Prof Stephen Scoot of the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. 'These drugs can also have substantial side-effects, for example Risperidone (Risperdal), typically leads to considerable weight gain.
'There is only modest evidence for their effectiveness in children with conduct disorders who have an average IQ and do not have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
'However, medication may dramatically reduce aggression in unusual cases and, in children with prolonged rages, anti-psychotics prescribed for short periods of up to four months may help the families to cope.'
Risperdal – an adult schizophrenia treatment that is sometimes used to curb irritability and aggression in autism – is one of the most commonly used drugs in Britain.
Its side effects include drowsiness and weight gain.
The use of thioridazine which is prescribed for hyperactivity, decreased after 2000 following fears of heart-related side effects.
'This highlights the need for long-term safety investigations and ongoing clinical monitoring, particularly if the prescribing rate of these medicines continues to rise', said researchers from the University of London.
The study was published in Pediatrics journal.