While prescriptions of antipsychotic drugs to adults have certainly increased in the last decade, the number of such drugs prescribed to children has increased dramatically. According to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, drug prescribing to children increased by eight times over the last 20 years, while five times as many drugs have been given to teens over the same period.
A majority of these prescriptions were for off-label uses (e.g. to treat conditions not initially sanctioned by the FDA). Common uses were to control ADHD and other disruptive behavior disorders. However, the report indicated there is little data detailing the efficacy of antipsychotic drugs for those conditions. It is also unknown how these drugs affect a child’s brain development. Nevertheless, they are known to cause weight gain and diabetes, both of which can have lifelong consequences for children.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this issue is how antipsychotic drugs are marketed. Time Magazine reports that every major drug manufacturer has been involved in the illegal marketing of the drugs for off-label uses. Essentially, doctors may prescribe drugs for off-label use, but drug makers may not advertise such uses.
In June, Johnson and Johnson settled a lawsuit with the federal government and will pay up to $2.2 billion for illegally promoting Risperdal (along with Invega, another antipsychotic drug). In 2009, Eli Lilly paid $1.4 billion after illegally marketing its antipsychotic drug Zyprexa.
The doctors who authored the study also warned that uncertainty over long-term risks and current safety concerns should lead physicians to change their prescribing practices. Given the precarious (and profitable) relationship between drug makers and doctors, it remains to be seen whether wholesale changes will be made.