by Tony Chicotel, CANHR Staff Attorney
September 2, 2010’s New York Times featured a grim story about the rising use of antipsychotic drugs on children. I could not help but observe how the insidious use of antipsychotics such as Risperdal on children mirrors the use of such drugs in California nursing homes.
The story focuses on one child, Kyle, who presented challenging behaviors to his parents and was prescribed Risperdal when he was about 18 months old. (The story also states that data from Texas revealed three infants who had received antipsychotic drugs before their first birthdays!) By the time he was three years old, Kyle was “sedated, drooling and overweight from the side effects of the antipsychotic medicine.” That sounds an awful lot like an overdrugged nursing home resident to me.
The story listed several reasons why the rate of antipsychotic drug use has doubled for privately insured two to five year-olds since 2000. One reason is the aggressive marketing of off-label uses for antipsychotic drugs for children, including Lego toys stamped with the word “Risperdal” for playing in doctors’ waiting rooms. Another reason is that pills are cheaper to dispense than more effective psychotherapy, a dilemma that is very prevalent in California nursing homes. As with elderly people with dementia, the administration of antipsychotics to children occurs despite “no valid medical reason.” Instead, children with behavioral challenges are identified and drugs are prescribed to mute their brains and personalities. It is a sordid, yet highly profitable business.
The article ends with six year-old Kyle, successfully weaned from antipsychotic drugs, thriving in school and in play. I have heard reports of similar stories in nursing homes: antipsychotic drugs are discontinued and the residents bounce back to life. Yet by the sheer numbers of children and nursing home residents receiving antipsychotic drugs for off-label uses, we know the success stories are all too few and far between.