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Study Reveals Overprescription of Antipsychotic Drugs to Disadvantaged Youth

476400937A recent study set forth in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology reveals a startling trend in the treatment and overmedication of children within the foster care system. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland have unearthed disturbing evidence linking the overprescription of antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal, Abilify and Seroquel to the treatment of disruptive behavioral conditions presenting in Medicaid-eligible children.

More specifically, the study reveals a near six-fold increase in prescriptions for these drugs for the treatment of Medicaid-eligible children as compared with privately-insured youth and adolescents.

Dangerous off-label practices put children at risk

One of the most startling components of this study, aside from the medically unethical association between overprescription of antipsychotic drugs and a patient’s socio-economic status, is the fact that many of the drugs mentioned above are being prescribed to children in violation of off-label marketing regulations. Currently, drugs like Risperdal, Ability and Seroquel (also known as “atypical antipsychotic medications”) are approved for use by children to treat the most severe psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and oppositional behavior caused by autism.

Researchers involved in the study reviewed antipsychotic prescription records as pertaining to Medicaid-eligible youth to reveal a distressing trend in the overprescription of these drugs for the treatment of Attention-Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – an unapproved use per the FDA’s current atypical antipsychotic medication regulations. This practice, known as off-label marketing, places vulnerable children at a greater risk for developing unstudied side effects and could lead to disastrous results for these children as they grow and develop.

Medicaid-eligible foster children fared even worse than their non-foster care counterparts – revealing longer prescription periods and higher doses. For instance, foster children aged 2-5 receiving antipsychotic prescription medications received the drugs an average of 180 day, as opposed to the average 150 days duration of use associated with non-foster care Medicaid-eligible youths.

Emerging litigation surrounding pediatric antipsychotic overprescription

Drug maker Johnson & Johnson is facing several lawsuits involving its Risperdal product – including allegations that young boys exposed to the drug developed a condition known as gynecomastia. This condition is categorized by the development of breast tissue in males and is caused by an imbalance of testosterone and estrogen in the male body. While this condition has been known to appear naturally in newborns, pubescent adolescents and elderly men, it is increasingly linked to the introduction of powerful drugs like Risperdal known to significantly alter the body’s internal chemistry.

Other litigation surrounding antipsychotic overprescription involves the potential link between childhood obesity and drugs like Abilify. In a recent article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association: Psychiatry, children who used antipsychotics were at a three-fold risk of developing Type 2 diabetes , as compared to their counterparts who were not exposed to these drugs.

Lawsuits surrounding the overprescription of these antipsychotic drugs in children, especially if found to be targeting disadvantaged foster youth, will seek to recover damages to correct any medical harm imposed, as well as remedy the mental anguish associated with the onset of conditions like Type 2 diabetes or gynecomastia.