Between 2005 and 2009, controlling "disruptive behavior" accounted for 63 percent of the reason antipsychotics were given to children and almost 34 percent for adolescents, the researchers found.
In contrast, bipolar disorder and depression were the most common reasons these drugs were prescribed to adults during that time period.
Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said these drugs have serious side effects, including weight gain, diabetes and heart problems.
"But, perhaps even more important is the finding that a substantial majority of the child antipsychotic visits were for young people diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorders, for which there are currently no FDA-approved antipsychotic medications," he said.
Given the uncertain effects that antipsychotic medications have on cognitive (brain), social and physical development in children and adolescents, it may be necessary to reevaluate clinical practice patterns, Rego said.
Efforts to educate physicians about the safety and effectiveness of antipsychotic medications are also needed, he said.
For more information on antipsychotics, visit the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
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