An increasing number of children age 2 or younger are being prescribed psychiatric drugs to address their violent or withdrawn behavior, The New York Times reports. Experts say there is no published research on the drugs’ effectiveness and potential health risks for this age group.
Among the antipsychotic drugs being prescribed for infants are risperidone (Risperdal) and quetiapine (Seroquel). These drugs are typically used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in adults. Almost 20,000 prescriptions for antipsychotic medications were written last year for children 2 and younger, the article notes. This represents a 50 percent increase from the previous year, according to the prescription data company IMS Health.
Most antipsychotics are indicated only for children 10 and older. Risperdal is approved for children as young as 5, but only for irritability associated with autism.
Prescriptions for the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) increased 23 percent in one year in children 2 and under, to about 83,000.
The newspaper notes IMS Health only tracks how many prescriptions were written, not how many children received them. Many children receive more than one prescription a year. Previous research suggests at least 10,000 children 2 and younger received antipsychotic prescriptions.
Experts told the newspaper it is possible that desperate, well-meaning parents and doctors hope the drugs will alleviate thrashing temper tantrums or overly depressed dispositions.
“People are doing their very best with the tools available to them,” said Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at Tulane University School of Medicine. “There’s a sense of desperation with families of children who are suffering, and the tool that most providers have is the prescription pad.” She noted the brains of infants are still rapidly developing, making it too risky to use these medications, which can greatly impact that development.