Prescription of antipsychotic drugs to children is on the rise
The Sector > Research > Prescription of antipsychotic drugs to children is on the rise, researchers find

Prescription of antipsychotic drugs to children is on the rise, researchers find

by Freya Lucas

December 13, 2023

Australian GPs are prescribing more antipsychotic drugs to children and adolescents for non-approved conditions, a new study by University of Adelaide researchers has found.


The study, published recently in the journal JCPP Advances, investigated antipsychotic prescribing patterns to children and adolescents diagnosed with mental health conditions in 2011 and 2017, using a large general practice database, MedicineInsight.


Currently, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved paediatric antipsychotics only for bipolar disorder, psychoses, and severe self-destructive, disruptive, or aggressive behaviours, however the study found high levels of off-label prescribing, which is the prescribing of drugs for unapproved medical conditions. 


Specifically the researchers found that children and adolescents were more likely to be prescribed antipsychotics in 2017 than in 2011, and off-label prescribing was 10 per cent higher in 2017, reaching almost 80 per cent of all patients prescribed antipsychotics. 


In both years, the main reason for prescribing antipsychotics was depression or anxiety – both off-label uses.


“These findings are particularly concerning because of the potential harms for children and adolescents,” said research leader Professor Jon Jureidini.


“There are well-known cardiometabolic adverse effects associated with antipsychotics, and studies have shown that paediatric patients develop these symptoms much more rapidly than adults taking these drugs. That puts children at increased risk for the development of metabolic syndrome and diabetes in childhood, and chronic cardiovascular diseases in adulthood.”


The study also found that 70 per cent of children and adolescents were prescribed another psychiatric drug at the same time as the antipsychotic, in both years studied. The concurrent use of psychiatric drugs increases the risk of adverse events and should only rarely occur in paediatric patients.


“Despite the risks, off-label prescribing is still common in children and adolescents because there are so few studies performed in this population, so evidence on effectiveness and safety is limited, and consequently, approvals by the TGA are few and far between,” shared lead author Julie Klau.


“GPs are legally allowed to prescribe off-label but must take extra precautions because of the lack of good evidence. The increase in off-label prescriptions of antipsychotics among vulnerable children is of concern and requires further action.”


According to the authors of the study, there is an urgent need to investigate why such high levels of off-label antipsychotic prescribing are occurring, especially among disadvantaged children, and why there are so many children taking multiple psychiatric drugs.


View the study findings in full here

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