Antipsychotic drug prescriptions for children under 2 years old rose 50 percent from 2013 to 2014, from about 13,000 prescriptions to 20,000 prescriptions, according to data analyzed by The New York Times.
Two of the most commonly prescribed antipsychotic drugs prescribed were risperidone, known as Risperdal, which is typically used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in teenagers and adults, and quetiapine, known as Seroquel.
Prescriptions for the antidepressant drug fluoxetine, or Prozac, rose 23 percent in the same time period for children under the age of 2 to about 83,000 prescriptions, according to data from prescription data company IMS Health. It's part of a growing trend where, despite a lack of evidence of their effectiveness and concerns about health risks, children who display violent or withdrawn behavior are being diagnosed with suspected neurological disorders and prescribed psychotropic drugs normally administered to adults suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety, according to The International Business Times.
Doctors usually have the authority to prescribe any medication for any reason they see fit, which can often result in medications being prescribed to small children without studies confirming safety or long-term side effects on their still-developing brain.
Most child psychiatry and neurology experts interviewed by the NY Times said that they had never heard of a child younger than 3 receiving such drugs, and the only explanation offered was that it was an attempt by desperate parents and doctors to alleviate thrashing temper tantrums or depressed disposition.
The medications have never been subjected to formal clinical studies for infants and toddlers because their neurological inner workings are still developing too rapidly, and in unknown ways, to risk using the drugs on them, according to Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at Tulane University School of Medicine.
"There are not studies," Dr. Gleason said, "and I'm not pushing for them."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted another study last year and found that health care providers had diagnosed at least 10,000 children aged 2 to 3 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and then prescribed them medications – often the amphetamine-based drug Adderall – even though the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommends against this, reported CBS News.
"I think you simply cannot make anything close to a diagnosis of these types of disorders in children of that age," Dr. Ed Tronick, a professor of developmental and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston, told The NY Times. "There's this very narrow range of what people think the prototype child should look like. Deviations from that lead them to seek out interventions like these. I think it's just nuts."