Many youths held in juvenile detention centers are being given potent antipsychotic drugs generally intended to treat bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, even though they have not been diagnosed with either problem, according to an investigation by Youth Today.
The investigation focused on five states that provided comprehensive information about their spending for antipsychotic drugs for incarcerated juveniles. It found that 70% of such prescriptions were filled for conditions other than bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Instead, the prescriptions frequently were written for, among other things, mood disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD.
The article also reported that 34 states said they did not have such information available or never responded to the one-year investigation by Youth Today — which the advocacy organization contends raises questions about whether the vast majority of states even monitor use or spending on antipsychotic drugs in juvenile centers.
As ProPublica points out, the use of antipsychotic drugs by children is believed to carry significant risks even when used properly. Potential side effects include weight gain and the early onset of diabetes.
At the same time, major pharmaceutical companies have been forced to pay hundreds of millions in criminal and civil fines by the federal government for promoting off-label uses of antipsychotic drugs. Those are uses that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and that drug companies cannot legally promote, but which doctors can prescribe on their own.
Youth Today notes that mental health professionals, such as adolescent psychologist LeAdelle Phelps, believe that the antipsychotic drugs can be valuable in helping juveniles become more amenable to psychotherapy. “In the end, what you’re trying to do is get him to be responsive to treatment. By reducing aggression by having calming, soothing effects, it makes [the youths] more malleable,” Phelps said.
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