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Several studies over the last few years have linked antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal (risperidone) to serious side effects like gynecomastia (abnormal breast growth in males) and diabetes. To date, over 400 Risperdal lawsuits have been filed in courts across the nation, with plaintiffs claiming the manufacturer—Janssen Pharmaceuticals—failed to provide adequate warnings on the product label.

Now, a new study notes that increasing numbers of children and adolescents are receiving prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs in Germany. Many of these drugs aren’t approved for use in young people.

More Children Prescribed Antipsychotic Drugs

For the study, researchers looked at insurance data from the Barmer GEK health insurance company. They then determined the number of prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs for children and adolescents between 2005 and 2012.

Results showed that between these years, prescriptions rose from 0.23 percent to 0.32 percent. When researchers narrowed it down to children between the ages of 10 and 14, they saw an increase of 0.24 percent to 0.43 percent. The most commonly prescribed drugs included risperidone, quetiapine, pipamperone, and tiapride.

The authors noted that these drugs can have serious side effects, and recommended doctors be careful to consider both the risks and benefits before writing prescriptions.

Consumer Reports Note Prescription Increase in U.S.

The U.S. is apparently seeing an even more dramatic increase in the prescription of these drugs. In December 2013, Consumer Reports noted that the number of American children taking antipsychotic drugs has “nearly tripled over the last 10 to 15 years.” They noted the increase couldn’t be blamed on a rise in serious mental illness, but rather on more doctors prescribing drugs to treat those illnesses and their symptoms.

“Doctors are prescribing antipsychotics even though there’s minimal evidence that the drugs help kids for approved uses,” the writers state, “much less the unapproved ones, such as behavioral problems.”

The FDA has approved antipsychotics for things like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and irritability associated with autism in children and/or adolescents. Other so-called “off-label” uses that are not approved by the agency but that may be treated with these drugs include aggressive behaviors, temper tantrums, ADHD, self-injuring behaviors, and other behavioral issues.

Best Buy Drugs Advises Caution

Following up on the concerns with these drugs, Consumer Reports released in March 2012 a report called “Best Buy Drugs,” in which they recommended that parents carefully consider the potential risks and benefits before giving their children these drugs. They recommend other options, like cognitive therapy, educational programs, and parent management training.

“Prescribing children and teens antipsychotic medication is controversial,” the authors write, “because there’s little evidence about the safety or effectiveness for use in these age groups.” Potential side effects include muscle rigidity, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels, involuntary tremors, and gynecomastia.

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