More and More Adolescents Are Taking Antipsychotic Drugs Without Good Reason, New Study Finds

According to a new study, the prescription of antipsychotic drugs among adolescents is on the rise, but the diagnosis of mental disorders is not. In other words, more adolescents are taking antipsychotic drugs without having been diagnosed with a mental disorder warranting such medication.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, analyzed trends between 2006 and 2010 using data from thousands of prescriptions. It found that the percentage of teens using medications increased over time, with the highest rates of usage being amongst teens ages 13 to 18. In 2006, about 1.1% of the group used drugs, while 1.19% used them in 2010.

The study also found that about 60% of those between the ages of one and six, 56.7% of those between the ages of seven and 12, 62% of those between the ages of 13 and 18, and 67.1% of those between ages 19 and 24, who were all taking the drugs, had no inpatient nor outpatient claim indicating a mental disorder diagnosis.

“There’s a general consensus that great caution should be exercised with antipsychotic drugs,” said lead author Mark Olfson. “This raises concerns about whether the right caution is taken.”

The reason medical professionals aren’t using the right amount of caution before prescribing antipsychotic drugs could possibly be because rates of mental disorders are quite high amongst children. According to federal statistics, one in five children either currently has, or has had, a seriously debilitating mental disorder.

However, researchers feel that in cases where there are diagnosed mental disorders, the antipsychotic drugs are being used to treat unapproved conditions, such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which doctors are known to prescribe antipsychotics for.

Olfson said that doctors do this because the drugs provide “fast relief” for behaviors in children that are often tough to manage. When in tough spots, both doctors and parents are willing to use the drugs in ways that haven’t been approved.

“There’s been concern that these medications have been overused, particularly in young children,” said Olfson. “Guidelines and clinical wisdom suggest that you really should be using a high degree of caution and only using them when other treatments have failed, as a last resort.”

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