Antipsychotic Prescriptions to Children – Too Much Too Soon?

Following yesterday’s post on the issue of weight gain and metabolic syndrome seen in kids treated with second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs), today, I look at another paper by Silvia Alessi-Severini and colleagues from the University of Manitoba published in the same issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

This paper examines the use of antipsychotics in children and adolescents (aged 18 years or younger) based on data collected from the administrative health databases of Manitoba Health and the Statistics Canada census between the fiscal years of 1999 and 2008.

Over these 10 years, prevalence of antipsychotic use increased with the introduction of the SGAs from 1.9 per 1000 in 1999 to 7.4 per 1000 in 2008.

The male-to-female antipsychotic usage ratio increased from 1.9 to 2.7 as the male youth population represented the fastest-growing subgroup of antipsychotic users in the entire population of Manitoba.

Notably, the paper finds that total number of prescriptions also increased significantly despite the lack of approved indications in this population.

More than 70% of antipsychotic prescriptions to children and adolescents were written by general practitioners with the most common diagnoses being attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and conduct disorders. In fact, the use of antipsychotics in combination with methylphenidate (ritalin) increased from 13% to 43%.

Thus, it appears that there is extensive off-label use of SGAs in kids and youth in Manitoba (and likely in other provinces), a finding that is of concern not least because of the significant (30-fold increased) risk of weight gain and metabolic syndrome associated with the use of these compounds.

So, while there is no doubt that these drugs may provide important clinical benefits in kids who do need them, it is hard to imagine that this degree of off-lable prescription is indeed warranted.

Again, I would love to hear from my readers regarding experience with these medications in children and youth.

Ottawa, Ontario