Antipsychotic drugs, originally developed to treat serious psychosis but increasingly used in patients with a range of behavioral and emotional disorders, are a $14 billion-per-year business. So-called “atypical” or “second-generation” antipsychotics like Risperdal bring in more money than any other class of medication on the market, and are the biggest selling drugs in the United States.
Studies show antipsychotic drug prescriptions in children and teens rose 600 percent from 1993 to 2002.
According to Dr. John Goethe, director of the Burlingame Center for Psychiatric Research in Connecticut, more than half of all children ages 5 to 12 in psychiatric hospitals over the last 10 years were prescribed antipsychotics. 95 percent of those prescriptions were for second-generation antipsychotics .
Many of the children didn’t even have a condition for which the drugs have shown to be helpful. 44 percent of the kids with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 45 percent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were prescribed off-label antipsychotics.
The story is very much the same in state-run juvenile detention systems. An article published in the Palm Beach Post revealed that antipsychotics were among the top drugs purchased by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, and were mostly used in children for uses not approved by the FDA, like sleep disorders or anxiety.
The atypical antipsychotic Risperdal stimulates the production of prolactin, a hormone released by the pituitary gland that promotes breast development in boys. Boys and young men are leaving the juvenile detention system with gynecomastia, a condition that can cause deep social discomfort at a critical time in their emotional development.
FDA-approved drugs to help treat ADHD raise levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, while antipsychotics lower them. Goethe at the Burlingame Center warns that children are being medicated for conditions for which antipsychotics haven’t been proven safe or effective.