NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 14, 2006

The use of potent antipsychotic drugs to treat children and adolescents for problems like bipolar disorder has increased more than fivefold from 1993 to 2002, say experts.

This explosion can be traced to the growing number of children and adolescents whose problems are given psychiatric labels once reserved for adults, to doctors' increasing comfort with a newer generation of drugs called atypical antipsychotics and to shrinking access to long-term psychotherapy and hospital care, say experts.

A recent study looked at visits to pediatricians and other doctors and found that nearly one in five psychiatric visits for young people included a prescription for antipsychotics. According to researchers:

  • The total number of visits that resulted in prescriptions for the drugs increased to 1,224,000 in 2002 from 201,000 from 1993 to 2995.
  • About a third of the children who received antipsychotics had behavior disorders, a third had psychotic symptoms or developmental problems and another third were suffering from mood disorders; overall, more than 40 percent of the children were also taking at least one other psychiatric medication.
  • From 2000 to 2002, more than 90 percent of the prescriptions analyzed were for the newer medications, and most of the patients were boys, predominantly Caucasian children, who were significantly more likely to see psychiatrists than other ethnic groups.

But these drugs also carry risks, says experts:

  • Many of the drugs can cause rapid weight gain and blood lipid changes that increase the risk of diabetes.
  • None of the most commonly prescribed antipsychotics are actually approved for use in children, but many child psychiatrists say that antipsychotic medication is the best therapy available for children in urgent need of help who do not respond well to other treatments.

However, this field desperately needs more research to clarify the overall effects of antipsychotic drugs, say experts.

Source: Benedict Carey, "Use of Antipsychotics by the Young Rose Fivefold," New York Times, June 6, 2006; based upon: Mark Olfson et al., "National Trends in the Outpatient Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Antipsychotic Drugs," Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 63, no. 6, June 2006.

For text (subscription required):

For abstract:


Browse more articles on Health Issues