The proportion of children and young people prescribed antipsychotics in England nearly doubled between 2000 and 2019, new research suggests.
Medications that have a sedative effect are often used to treat serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, in adults.
However, the drug can be associated with significant side effects such as sexual dysfunction, infertility, and weight gain leading to diabetes.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has approved the use of certain antipsychotics for people under 18 with psychosis or very aggressive behavior caused by the disorder.
However, a study by the University of Manchester’s Women’s Mental Health Center suggests they are being prescribed for a growing range of reasons, the most common of which is autism.
Researchers looked at the records of 7.2 million children and teenagers aged 3 to 18 registered with selected UK GP surgeries between 2000 and 2019.
They found that while the overall proportion of people prescribed antipsychotics was relatively small, it increased from 0.06% in 2000 to 0.11% in 2019.
Researchers argue that the increasing use of antipsychotics is a cause for concern, given that their safety in children who are still developing rapidly has not been fully established.
The study was jointly led by Dr Matthias Pierce, a senior research fellow at the University of Manchester Women’s Mental Health Centre.
He said: “This study shows a worrying trend in the prescribing of antipsychotics to children and adolescents.
“We do not believe that changes in prescribing necessarily lead to changes in clinical needs; rather, it may reflect changes in clinician prescribing practice.
“However, this study will help clinicians more fully evaluate prescribing antipsychotics for children and encourage them to consider better access to alternatives.”
Senior author Professor Kathryn Abel from the University of Manchester said: “Antipsychotics continue to play a valuable role in the treatment of serious mental illness.
“These findings provide a descriptive account of antipsychotic prescribing to children and young people in the UK today and provide insight into current practice.”
She added: “The expansion of the use of antipsychotics in developing young people raises questions about their safety over time and requires further research into this.”
The study, published in Lancet Psychiatry, also found that boys and older children – aged 15 to 18 – were more likely to receive antipsychotics than girls and younger children.
In addition, older classes of antipsychotics, which can be associated with uncontrollable involuntary movements, were more commonly prescribed in more deprived areas.
Emily Simonoff, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London (IoPPN), said the findings would come as no surprise to doctors as evidence is emerging of the benefits of this type of therapy. medications for various ailments.
She added: “Indeed the term ‘antipsychotics’ is not helpful to either clinicians or the wider public.
“It describes how this class of drugs was first used, not how they work.
“This may inadvertently lead people to consider any use other than psychotic disorder as unwarranted.
“This is not the case, and there is good evidence of their benefits for other conditions, such as irritability in autism spectrum disorder.”