July 29 (UPI) -- Many children are still taking antipsychotic drugs to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder even when they shouldn't be, a new study says.
Antipsychotic drugs are prescribed to young people with ADHD at four times the rate of others in that age group, according to research published Friday in JAMA Network Open.
Most children with ADHD are prescribed some type of stimulant as part of treatment, including well known medications such as Ritalin and Adderall, but some also receive antipsychotics like Risperidone.
The researchers found that 2.6 percent of youths diagnosed with ADHD were prescribed antipsychotic drugs within a year of diagnosis -- four times the rate among young people in general.
"We didn't know how widespread this practice was among young people starting ADHD treatment," senior author Mark Olfson, a researcher at Elizabeth K Dollard Columbia University and study senior author, said in a news release. "There are substantial risks associated with the use of antipsychotic drugs in young people, including weight gain, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and even unexpected death."
For the study, the researchers pulled in medical and prescription data for more than 187,000 ADHD-diagnosed people between age 3 and 24. While none had recent psychiatric diagnoses prior to the study, the researchers did find symptoms for conditions like bipolar disorder and psychosis in the patients.
In all, nearly 3 percent of people in the group received antipsychotic drug prescriptions like Risperidone, aripiprazole and quetiapine. That includes more than 4 percent of kids between 3 and 5.
The reason is that, while the risk is low, some amphetamine-based ADHD drugs such as Adderall and Vyvanse have been linked to psychosis. Amphetamine-based medications carry a higher risk than methylphenidates such as Ritalin and Concerta.
Still, early use of the stimulants for children has shown effectiveness in treating anxiety, major depression and substance abuse.
"While hospitalization and use of other medications may be markers for more severe symptoms, we don't have enough information from these records to determine symptom severity," said Ryan S. Sultan, a researcher at Columbia University and study lead author. "Antipsychotic medications play a small role in the treatment of severe ADHD symptoms, but in the absence of severe symptoms, there are safer, more effective medications for youths with ADHD."