Teens May Be Prescribed Antipsychotic Drugs for the Wrong Reasons

A new study shows an increase in the number of tweens and teens being prescribed powerful antipsychotic drugs. 

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Doctors may have our best interests in mind, but that doesn’t mean we’re free to dodge all responsibility when it comes to our family’s health. Parents would be wise to do a little background research of their own, as evidenced by a new study published in JAMA PsychiatryThe report points to an uptick in the percentage of antipsychotic drugs being prescribed to youth, mostly to those with ADHD, but some of these prescriptions are not necessarily justified.

Antipsychotic medications—such as Abilify, Seroquel, and Zyprexa—are associated with heart problems, diabetes, and weight gain, as well as other day-to-day symptoms like blurred vision, muscle spasms, and drowsiness. That's not even counting the damaging effects the drugs can have on a developing tween or teen brain. 

Yet in the four years between 2006-2010, the percentage of adolescents using antipsychotics jumped from 1.10-1.19 percent, which, in the context of 74 million U.S. kids and teens, equates to much more than it sounds. Also, in 2010 alone, 2.80 million antipsychotic prescriptions were written for teens.

Meredith Matone, a research scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was bothered by these results:

“This is concerning because evidence of antipsychotics’ efficacy for treating a number of behavioral health disorders is lacking. Increasingly, many youth are receiving these medications to treat behavior problems in the absence of a more severe psychiatric illness.”

Christoph Correll, a psychiatry researcher in New York, was also perturbed by these numbers. He reported that only about 35 percent of the 7 million antipsychotic prescriptions written for kids and teens in 2010 were prescribed by an adolescent psychiatrist. He also found that many of the young people receiving these prescriptions (mostly adolescent boys) did not have mental disorders, but instead, aggression difficulties that could have been treated sans medication.

“The main takeaway for clinicians and families is that for youth without psychiatric symptoms, alternatives to antipsychotic treatment should be tried whenever possible.” 

Unfortunately, bad drug addictions can happen to good kids. But there are ways to take prescriptions responsibly. To learn more about the potential dangers of these drugs, read our profile of a science nerd and hockey star whose prescription addiction turned dangerous.