Treating children, pushing drugs

The New York Times has another investigative article on the pharmaceutical industry, this time looking at how promotions aimed at psychiatrists encourage the prescription of antipsychotic drugs to children.

As far as I know, none of the newer ‘atypical’ antipsychotics are licensed for children (actually, I’d be interested to hear otherwise).

This doesn’t mean doctors can’t prescribe them, as they have the freedom to prescribe ‘off-label’ whatever they feel would help the individual, but it does mean that the drug companies can’t advertise them for this purpose.

‘Off-label’ drug promotion is illegal, but it is an open secret that it occurs widely.

Notably, the number of children prescribed atypical antipsychotics has soared in recent years, and in the only US state that keeps records of drug company promotional spending, promotional money seems to be a key factor:

From 2000 to 2005, drug maker payments to Minnesota psychiatrists rose more than sixfold, to $1.6 million. During those same years, prescriptions of antipsychotics for children in Minnesota’s Medicaid program rose more than ninefold.

Those who took the most money from makers of atypicals tended to prescribe the drugs to children the most often, the data suggest. On average, Minnesota psychiatrists who received at least $5,000 from atypical makers from 2000 to 2005 appear to have written three times as many atypical prescriptions for children as psychiatrists who received less or no money.

It seems that these drugs are increasingly being prescribed for a whole range of different disorders in children, despite limited evidence for their effectiveness in some conditions and a shocking lack of studies on the long-term effects.

The fact is, psychiatric drugs have an important and useful part to play in treating mental illness, sometimes even in children.

Unfortunately, this sort of underhand marketing and out-of-control prescribing puts some parents off when their children would genuinely benefit, and unnecessarily gives powerful and potentially dangerous drugs to some children when they could be helped in other ways.

The answer? Stick to the science when prescribing – just say no to drug promotion.

Link to article ‘Psychiatrists, Children and Drug Industry‚Äôs Role’

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