Study Examines the Use of Antipsychotic Medications to Treat Children with ADHD

A study published last year examined the rate at which doctors prescribe antipsychotic medications for children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD or ADD. The researchers found a significant increase in the rate of prescriptions in recent years, and psychiatrists may now prescribe antipsychotics for children or adolescents with ADHD in one-third of all visits. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved antipsychotic medications for ADHD in children, making it an “off-label” use. While this is not illegal per se, it raises concerns about known and unknown side effects and the risks of dangerous medication errors.

ADHD is a mental health condition that affects both children and adults, and can severely impact a child’s functioning in school and other activities. Symptoms include easy distraction, difficulty focusing, irritability, and difficulty remaining still. The most common pharmaceutical treatment for ADHD consists of stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ADHD affects about 5.2 million children between the ages of three and seventeen, just over eight percent of all children in the U.S. in that age range. About twelve percent of boys and nearly five percent of girls in that age range have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Antipsychotics are a class of drugs that includes Abilify and Serqouel. The FDA has reportedly only approved them for four uses with children: bipolar disorder in children aged ten to seventeen, schizophrenia in children aged thirteen to seventeen, certain conditions associated with autism, and certain symptoms of Tourette syndrome. Studies have found potential side effects in adults from newer antipsychotic drugs that include weight gain, increases in cholesterol and blood sugar, and tardive dyskinesia, a potentially permanent condition that causes random involuntary movement. Many studies have also failed to show that antipsychotics had any significantly greater effect than other drugs in treating conditions other than schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The study, “National Trends in the Office-Based Treatment of Children, Adolescents, and Adults With Antipsychotics,” appeared on the website of the Archives of General Psychiatry in August 2012. Researchers reviewed nearly 485,000 records from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys covering the period from 1993 to 2009 to identify trends in the use of antipsychotics. The study divided results into three categories: children up to age thirteen, adolescents ages fourteen to twenty, and adults ages twenty-one and up. The use of antipsychotics in child patients increased by a factor of eight, while their use with adolescents increased by a factor of five. Among adult patients, the rate almost doubled. By 2009, children received antipsychotic prescriptions in 1.83 percent of total visits, compared to 3.76 percent for adolescents. The most common diagnoses that led to an antipsychotic prescription, the researchers found, were “disruptive behavior disorders,” accounting for 63 percent among children and 33.7% among adolescents.

The Maryland attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist victims of medication errors, who have been injured by drugs prescribed, dispensed, or administered incorrectly. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

In an Effort to Reduce Medication Errors, San Diego Hospital Implements High Tech Program, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, December 19, 2012
Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Alleges that VA Doctors Overprescribed Antipsychotic Medications, Causing Woman’s Suicide: Grese v. United States of America, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, November 30, 2012
FDA Warns of Confusion between Risperdal and Requip, Leading to Medication Error, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, June 27, 2011

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