Mental health drug update

The FDA has recently approved the antipsychotic drug Risperdal for treatment of schizophrenia in adolescents ages 13-17 and for short-term treatment of bipolar disorder in youths ages 10-17.

Before now, there was no FDA-approved drug for treating pediatric schizophrenia, and only lithium was approved for treating bipolar disorder in kids 12 and older.

“This is a significant first step in encouraging and supporting the much-needed scientific evidence to improve and enhance the treatment of psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents,” says Dr. Tanya R. Anderson, the deputy clinical director of child and adolescent services with the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health.

She says many medications used to treat these conditions in adults are used with children and adolescents as well, and physicians have been prescribing Risperdal for about 10 years, based on scientific findings on the drug’s effectiveness and their own clinical experience and professional judgment.

However, she says,"once the FDA approves a medication for a specific age group, it typically broadens the number of physicians comfortable prescribing—and thus providing treatment for—those who would be appropriate.”

If enough data isn’t available on a drug’s effect on a particular age range, the FDA will not approve its use. This, Anderson says, is the primary reason most psychotropic meds haven’t been approved for young people.

“No one, public or private, has invested the necessary resources to do the appropriate, rigorous studies in the childhood population,” she says.

Risperdal is a psychotropic medication used to treat a variety of psychiatric symptoms and disorders. It works mainly by affecting dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain.

“All medications have some side effects and Risperdal is no exception,” says Anderson."Before beginning any psychotropic medication, parents should be aware of potential side effects and what to do should they occur.”

Diagnoses should occur after a thorough mental health assessment. A variety of mental health professionals can do initial assessments, but Anderson says a child and adolescent psychiatrist should evaluate the child and confirm or adjust any diagnoses before any medications are introduced.

Above all, she says,"parents should know treatment is available and effective. Don’t be afraid to talk to your physician and ask questions. This is your child and you are their best advocate.”

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