Antipsychotic Meds Used More in UK for Kids With Autism

A new U.K. study suggests that children with intellectual difficulty or autism are more likely to be given antipsychotic medication at a younger age than those without intellectual disability. Researchers discovered these children have higher rates of hospitalization for depression and for injury, and also are at risk of other medical side effects.

Antipsychotic medications may be prescribed for young people with serious mental conditions such as schizophrenia. They are also used to reduce aggression in children with disruptive behavior, and sometimes for short-term management of young people with explosive anger.

The new study examined how antipsychotics are used in the U.K., linking hospital, general practitioner and educational records for 3028 young people who had been prescribed an antipsychotic.

The research was led by Professor Sinead Brophy of the Swansea University Medical School and is published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

Researchers discovered children with intellectual difficulty or autism were more likely to be given an antipsychotic. The study found:

  • 2.8 percent had been prescribed antipsychotics;
  • 75 percent of these children had autism;
  • This compares with 0.15 percent of those without intellectual disability.

Those with intellectual disability or autism were prescribed them younger and for a longer period than those without intellectual disability or autism. Investigators found that 50 percent of those with intellectual disability or autism had more than 12 prescriptions compared to 25 percent of those without intellectual disability or autism.

For young people who did not have intellectual disability or autism, there were lower rates of depression and injury after the antipsychotic, but for those with autism or intellectual disability there were higher rates of being hospitalized for depression and for injury.

Investigators believes this occurs because the medication has a sedative effect and makes children more injury prone. And, if the child did not have a manic or agitated type mental health condition beforehand, it can lead to depression.

Use of antipsychotic medication is a concern as they are known to be associated with increasing seizures in those with epilepsy. In some people, certain antipsychotics can cause weight gain and potential diabetes, as well as reducing swallowing — leaving people open to respiratory infections.

In the new study, researchers found evidence of higher rates of epilepsy, diabetes and respiratory infection requiring hospital admission in all young people, with and without autism or intellectual disability, who are on antipsychotics.

Brophy said, “Our research suggests that young people with intellectual difficulty or autism are more like to be prescribed antipsychotic medication than those with a psychotic diagnosis, and are prescribed this medication at a younger age and for a longer period of time.

“Treating behavioral problems in this way can lead to increased costs to the National Health Service in terms of higher epilepsy, respiratory infection, diabetes, depression and injury, all requiring more visits to the GP and hospital. In addition, treating behavioral problems in this way can have long-term health implications for the individual and for those who care for them.”

Source: Swansea University