Who Is Prescribing Antipsychotics to Our Children?

There has been a dramatic increase in antipsychotic (AP) medication use in recent decades. There are a number of different types of AP medications currently being prescribed. Medical professionals can choose from first generation antipsychotics (FGA) and second generation antipsychotics (SGA), the latter of which are often prescribed for a variety of conditions not directly classified as psychosis.

Many of these SGAs are being taken by children. Because the side effects of SGAs, which include hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, can be chronic, having a clear picture of just who is most at risk and who is prescribing these SGAs is imperative. To get an accurate assessment of which medical professionals are prescribing SGAs and which children are taking them, Rebecca Ronsley, a medical student with the University of Toronto, recently conducted a study involving data from children under the age of 18 years old.

Based on a British Columbia database, Ronsley examined the rate of usage by children over a 15 year period and found that from 1996 through 2011, all AP use increased by almost four times in this segment of the population. When she looked at SGAs, she found that there was an 18-fold increase. This was most prevalent in boys between the ages of 13 to 18, followed closely by boys between 6 and 12, and then girls between 13 and 18 years old.

Conditions prompting AP usage included various psychological issues; however, neurotic conditions made up 11.1% of all AP prescriptions, hyperkinetic symptoms were 11.7%, and depression accounted for 12.8% of prescriptions. Further, Ronsley found that 38.6% of all prescriptions were written by psychiatrists, 34.3% by family doctors, and 15.6% by pediatricians.

Overall, the findings of this study show that young people are being prescribed APs in record numbers for a variety of reasons. Ronsley hopes that these results emphasize the importance of addressing the risks associated with APs, and specifically SGAs, for today’s children. She added, “Knowledge translation initiatives promoting evidence-based prescribing and monitoring practices related to SGA treatment need to target the three main prescriber groups and be tailored for age subgroups.”

Ronsley, Rebecca, B.Sc, et al. (2013). A population-based study of antipsychotic prescription trends in children and adolescents in British Columbia, from 1996 to 2011. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 58.6 (2013): 361-9. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Rebecca


    August 21st, 2013 at 8:45 PM

    This is absolutely deplorable!With the side effects of antipsychotic medicines being well known and proven it is criminal to prescribe them to kids.Whats more,at a time when we’re grappling with extremely high rates of Obesity and depression in children these meds are being being pushed like this.There should be medical and legal guidelines against this and on an urgent basis.

  • Margaret


    August 22nd, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    It’s not that I necessarily have a huge problem with this, I just hope that parents are very vigilant about having providers keep a close eye on the issues that kids who are on these drugs are faced with. They need to make sure to have blood pressure monitored, etc and not just let this go since it sounds like there could be all kinds of problems for them if these are left unchecked.

  • jeffD


    August 22nd, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    When I read this I thought about just how scary it is the fact that there are so many who have the ability to write prescriptions but really not the knowledge behind the drugs that they are writing the scrips for.

  • Ashlynn


    August 23rd, 2013 at 4:09 AM

    Antipsychotics in kids?
    Really? I had no idea this would be such a growing trend.
    So troubling that there is even this necessity I guess.

  • Saundra


    September 20th, 2014 at 5:39 AM

    Thwnks for sharing your info. I truly appreciate your efforts and I
    will be waiting for your next write ups thanks once again.

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