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Use Of Risperdal In Children Is Strongly Criticized

According to a recent panel of federal drug experts, powerful antipsychotic medicines are being used far too cavalierly in children.

For example, according to this panel of experts, more than 389,000 children and teenagers were treated last year with Risperdal (made by Johnson & Johnson), one of five popular medicines known as atypical antipsychotics. Of those patients, 240,000 were 12 or younger. In many cases, the drug was prescribed to treat attention deficit disorders.  But Risperdal is not approved by the FDA for attention deficit problems, and its risks — which include substantial weight gain, metabolic disorders and muscular tics that can be permanent — are clearly too profound and significant to justify its use in treating such disorders.  Similar concerns have been expressed with respect to Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon, other medicines in the same class as Risperdal.

The panel's concerns join growing concern from many quarters about the increasing use of antipsychotic medicines in children and teenagers. Prescription rates for these drugs have increased more than fivefold for children in the past decade and a half.  This increase is partly related to the growing use by doctors of the "pediatric bipolar disorder" diagnosis.  The leading advocate for this diagnosis has been Dr. Joseph Biederman, a child psychiatrist at Harvard.  However, Dr. Biederman is currently under suspicion after a Congressional investigation revealed he had failed to report to his university at least $1.4 million in outside income from the makers of antipsychotic medicines.

According to the panel, in the past year (2008), Risperdal prescriptions to patients 17 and younger increased 10 percent, while prescriptions among adults declined 5 percent.  From 1993 through the first three months of 2008, 1,207 children given Risperdal suffered serious problems, including 31 who died. Among the deaths was a 9-year-old with attention deficit problems who suffered a fatal stroke 12 days after starting therapy with Risperdal.  At least 11 of the deaths were children whose treatment with Risperdal was unapproved by the F.D.A.