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Child psychiatry expert calls to review antipsychotic use in kids

Photo: Calls to review antipsychotic use in kids
An expert in child psychiatry says no child under the age of six should be prescribed an antipsychotic and would like to see a review of these medications.

There are concerns antipsychotic drugs are being overprescribed to children purely as a way of managing problem behaviour, leading to calls for a review of prescription rates in Australia.

Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry David Coghill, an honorary fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute MCRI and academic at the University of Melbourne says the data would suggest the inappropriate prescription of these drugs.

"These drugs were designed for treating psychosis not for treating behavioural problems and aggressive behaviours," Prof Coghill said.
"Increasingly what we are seeing is that children and young people without ADHD, without autism and without intellectual disability but who are impulsive and aggressive are being prescribed these really very strong medications to help manage those behaviours."

Usually, ADHD would not even be an indication for prescribing antipsychotic medication and there are much "safer" and effective drugs that can be used, added Prof Coghill.

According to a Fairfax report, figures from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme shows more than 16,500 people under the age of 17 were prescribed antipsychotics in 2015.

Figures cited by the Citizens Committee on Human Rights suggest more than 1,300 children aged two to six were being prescribed antipsychotics.

Under no circumstance is an antipsychotic an appropriate treatment for someone under the age of six, believes Prof Coghill.

"There are other approaches and medications that would certainly be used before you would go for an antipsychotic," he said. "I would like us to really review the use of these medications."

In fact, any medication should be a last resort for treating aggressive behaviours, says Prof Coghill.

"It's much more effective to use non-pharmacological treatments that look at helping a young person manage their symptoms, or for adults to manage a young person in such a way that help them to reduce those aggressive behaviours," Prof Coghill.

The problem, he says, is that those treatment approaches are much harder to access.

"We don't have enough clinical psychologists and other professionals trained in the non-pharmacological approaches.

"And also because in Australia, particularly the private system, the pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists work independent of each other and not always within multi-disciplinary teams."

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