Antipsychotics May Help Children with ADHD, Aggression: Study

New research suggests that atypical antipsychotics, such as Risperdal, may help some children suffering from aggressive or other disruptive child behaviors. However, Risperdal and other similar medications have been linked to certain health concerns among children, including a potential risk of childhood diabetes and male breast growth.

In a study published in the January issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers from Ohio State University’s Nisonger Center looked at children diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who were extremely aggressive. They found that when Risperdal was added to their medication regimen, which also usually included stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, disrputive behaviors decreased.

Researchers looked at 168 children from ages 6 to 12 with ADHD and severe physical aggression. The children were placed in a randomized 9-week trial that included parent training in behavior management, stimulants, and either Risperdal or a placebo.

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Side effects of Risperdal linked to risk of breast growth among young boys, or gynecomastia.


While both sets of children showed improved behavior, including reductions in disruptive and antisocial behavior, those given Risperdal showed a statistically significant amount more improvement than those not given the drug. The study determined that Risperdal provided moderate but variable improvement in aggressive and other seriously disruptive behaviors when combined with parental training and stimulant therapy.

Antipsychotic Side Effects

Risperdal is part of a class of medications known as atypical antipsychotics, which also includes Abilify, Serquel, Zyprexa and others.

The findings of this latest study come amid increasing concerns about the potential long-term side effects of antipsychotics, especially among children. Use of the medications have been associated with weight gain, a potential risk of childhood diabetes and other serious health problems.

An investigation by Consumer Reports released in December 2013 detailed how child antipsychotic use has tripled over the last 10 to 15 years, with a disproportionate number of those prescriptions involving uses that are not approved by the FDA, particularly targeting poor or minority children. According to the findings of Consumer Reports, a number of studies have found little evidence that antispychotics work to treat minor behavioral problem, yet the drugs come with serious health concerns.

In August, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General (DHHS-OIG) launched an investigation into antipsychotic drug prescriptions for children. The investigation came as a result of concerns that antipsychotics are increasingly used too often to treat child behavioral problems.

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.

Studies regarding the weight gain side effects of antipsychotics for children have found that the medications may quadruple the risk of developing childhood diabetes. Additional studies have also found that many other side effects may also include urinary problems and even death.

In recent years, side effects of Risperdal use by young boys has also been linked to a rare condition known gynecomastia, which involves the development of breasts. A number of Risperdal breast growth lawsuits are currently being pursued throughout the United States, alleging that the drug maker failed to provide adequate warnings for families and the medical community about the problems, which can have a substantial impact on the child’s quality of life and may ultimately result in the need for breast removal surgery.


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