Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Number of UK children on antipsychotic drugs doubles - Channel 4 News

Numbers of children on antipsychotic drugs doubles (Getty)

As many as 15,000 children and young people under the age of 18 were prescribed this medication last year. But these figures are only from GP surgeries and primary care trusts and do not include hospital prescribing, which suggests the true number could be far higher.

Astonishingly, no official data is kept on the number of youngsters being given anti-psychotics. This has only now been revealed after Channel 4 News commissioned a drug database company to collate them.

The investigation comes as the government announced that GPs could face jail if they are found to be "chemically coshing" elderly patients with dementia. But no mention was made of children and young people in the announcements.

Anti-psychotics are meant for patients with serious mental conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychosis. But mental health experts now say that they would also appear, in some instances, to be being used to control children's behaviour.

If there is a doubling in the rate of children being given anti-psychotics that is a worry. My worry is that these drugs are being used for other purposes. Professor Tim Kendall

The investigation also found children are being left on the drugs for years at a time and are not being properly monitored, which is against best practice guidelines.

Professor Tim Kendall, who has been asked to write the first ever guidance on prescribing anti-psychotics to young people with serious mental illness, said that these findings are extremely concerning.

"As far as I am aware there is no evidence that there has been a doubling in the rate of psychosis so if there is a doubling in the rate of children being given anti-psychotics that is a worry," Prof Kendall said.

"My worry is that these drugs are being used for other purposes."

Family stories

And that would be appear to be what is happening. We have spoken to families whose children have been given the drug for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and for autism.

The family of one young boy first prescribed an anti-psychotic when he was five for so-called "challenging behaviour" has subsequently been told that he was in fact in pain. The boy, now aged eight, is autistic and regularly banged his head against hard surfaces and lay on the floor kicking and screaming. But his parents said the anti-psychotics he had been on for three years had had no benefit at all.

Eventually he was seen by Professor Chris Oliver, of Birmingham University, who has been researching behavioural problems in children with autism.
His conclusion was that the young boy was most probably in pain - suffering from gastro-oesophageal reflux, more commonly known as heart burn. But because of his autism he was not able to articulate that he was physically suffering.

Anti-psychotics were developed in the 1950s and have been widely prescribed to adults since the 1970s. But they can cause, among other things, dramatic weight gain, diabetes and heart disorders. They can also leave patients with a Parkinson's disease-like tremor which does not stop even if they are taken off the medication.

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