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September 04, 2013
Use of anti-psychotic drugs among children “growing exponentially”

The prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs to children less than 18 years of age is growing at an “exponential” rate, a British Columbia Ministry of Health study says.

In an article published in the June 2013 edition of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found that the number of prescriptions of powerful “second-generation anti-psychotics” (SGAs) given to children has grown from 315 to 5,432 from 1996 to 2011, an 18-fold increase.

In addition, the number of children receiving other anti-psychotic medications has grown 400 per cent, from 1,583 to 5,791, in the same period.

Prescriptions have been dispensed to children as young as six years old, despite the fact that very few of the drugs have been approved for use among children that young, the study noted.

More worrisome, many of the children are receiving the drugs for diagnoses not approved by Health Canada, the BC researchers say.

The growing use of these medications among the young “is of grave concern” considering that their side effects can include rapid weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes or other conditions that can contribute to increased risk of heart attack or stroke when older, the research group says.

The biggest increases of anti-psychotic drug use occurred among boys age six to 12 and boys and girls age 13 to 18.  The most common conditions treated were attention deficit hyperactivity and related disruptive disorders and neurotic disorders including anxiety.

Risperidone, quetiapine and olanzapine were prescribed most frequently.  

“These medications seem to be a common ‘go to,’” says study author Dr. Dina Panagiotopoulos.  

Dr. Panagiotopoulos also noted that SGAs have also been tested on adolescents with depression associated with bi-polar disorder with no improvement in symptoms whatsoever.

“In spite of that, there’s a lot of prescribing happening in adolescents for depression,” she says.

While the study was confined to British Columbia, it could signal that increased use of anti-psychotic medications among children may be occurring in other jurisdictions.

It should be noted that it is standard insurance industry practice to decline claims for treatments of diagnoses not approved by Health Canada.

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