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Federal officials are reviewing the increasing number of children being prescribed antipsychotic medications, such as Risperdal and Abilify, as concerns continue to mount that the drugs are being overused to treat behavioral problems.
The investigation was launched by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Health and Human Services( DHHS), evaluating antipsychotic drug prescriptions and use by recipients of Medicaid ages 17 and under, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
The review comes as agencies under the umbrella of the DHHS, including the FDA, are also calling for health officials nationwide to increase oversight of antipsychotic prescriptions to young Medicaid recipients.
Both older antipsychotics and newer atypical antipsychotics are included in the investigation. Some of those drugs have actually been approved for treatment of children with behavior disorders, such as bipolar and schizophrenia, while others are often prescribed “off-label” by doctors, for indications that have not been approved by the FDA as safe and effective.
Doctors and parents have raised concerns that the drugs are being overused to treat behavioral problems, unnecessarily exposing children to the risk of side effects from antipsychotics.
In many cases, critics indicate that the focus should be on working with the child and his or her caregivers in order to determine the cause of their behavior.
A 2012 study published in the medical journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that children are prescribed antipsychotics at a higher rate than adults, with use of those drugs by children increasing at a more rapid rate than by adults from 2003 through 2009. The report found that one-in-three minors that go to see a psychiatrist are prescribed an antipsychotic to address their behavior.
Antipsychotic Side Effects on Children
In recent years, serious concerns have been raised about the potential risk of diabetes, weight gain and other side effects of atypical antipsychotics.
In 2011, an FDA advisory panel recommended that the agency monitor the newer class of antipsychotics, which include Risperdal, Abilify, Serquel, Zyprexa and others. The medications have been linked to severe weight gain, which can pose serious long-term health risks for children.
A study published that same year in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that patients gained 11 to 13 pounds after taking Zyprexa for only six to eight weeks. Patients also experienced an increase in glucose, cholesterol triglycerides and insulin levels when given a variety of atypical antipsychotics.
Studies regarding the effects of such drugs for children, especially when prescribed for unapproved uses, have been found to cause weight gain and to also quadruple the risk of developing diabetes in children under the age of 18. Additional studies have also found that many other side effects may also include urinary problems and even death.
Concerns have also been raised about the use of some of the medications among young boys, as side effects of Risperdal have been linked to male breast growth, including a serious medical condition known as gynecomastia, which often causes a serious impact on the child’s quality of life and may result in the need for surgical breast removal.
Johnson & Johnson faces a growing number of Risperdal breast growth lawsuits filed in courts throughout the country, which allege that the drug maker failed to adequately warn users or the medical community about the risk of boys developing breasts following use of the medication. These problem are often misdiagnosed as weight gain associated with the medication, but in some cases boys have developed breasts measuring as large as a 38D cup size after using the medication.