he New York Times has published a story describing one young child’s experience with psychotic drugs and the potential dangers these drugs may pose for children. Kyle Warren, now age six, was first prescribed antipsychotic drugs when he was only 18 months old. His mother, overwhelmed by the child’s severe temper tantrums, sought help from her pediatrician. This was the beginning of a string of diagnoses with various mental illnesses from different physicians who prescribed a range of drugs, often at one time. Though Kyle has since been weaned off these drugs and is now receiving coordinated care, his case represents a dangerous trend in the treatment of children’s mental health.
As Dr. Robert Findling, professor of psychiatry at CWRU’s School of Medicine, notes in a recent interview posted on Medscape, the number of antipsychotics prescribed to children has been increasing in recent years. This trend is alarming because many antipsychotic drugs have not been tested on children, and therefore their effects are unknown. Furthermore, the scarcity of child psychiatrists in the medical system means that treating children with symptoms of mental illness is often left to primary care physicians, who may not have the expertise needed to precisely assess and treat their young patient’s mental illness.
The question of whether children should be prescribed antipsychotics – and by whom – must be answered using systematic research assessing the effects of these drugs on children. Unfortunately, this research is still ongoing and answers are not yet available for children and families currently in need of mental health services.