Scientists found that boys who have been diagnosed with ADHD are receiving prescriptions for antipsychotics more often than they should be prescribed.

Researchers at Columbia University, Yale University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute reviewed prescription data gathered from across the United States and looked at age patterns in the use of antipsychotic medications, the first such review of age patterns.

"Antipsychotics should be prescribed with care," says Michael Schoenbaum, co-author of the study and senior adviser for mental health services, epidemiology and economics at the National Institute of Mental Health. He stresses that the drugs, which are used to treat conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can have adverse effects on both physical and neurological functions. Even after medication has stopped, these effects may still persist.

Ranging from ages 10 to 18, about 1.5 percent of boys were given antipsychotic prescriptions in 2010. The percentage dropped to about half a percent by the time they reach the age of 19. ADHD is most commonly diagnosed among those from ages 1 to 18. In young adults, those from ages 19 to 24, depression is most commonly diagnosed among those who have been receiving antipsychotics.

Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H. from the Department of Psychiatry College of Physicians and Surgeons, and his colleagues looked at data revealing 63 percent of prescriptions made to outpatients in the U.S. Out of the data gathered from 2006 to 2010, the use of antipsychotics increased along with age, in both boys and girls. In 2010, it began at 0.11 percent among ages 1 to 6. Then it increased to 0.80 percent among ages 7 to 12. It further increased to 1.19 percent among ages 13 to 18. By the time the patients reached the ages 19 to 24, the percentage dropped to 0.84 percent.

In 2010, 0.16 percent of boys ages 1 to 6 received antipsychotic prescriptions, while 0.6 percent of girls did. The pattern showed that boys would likely be prescribed antipsychotic drugs twice as often as girls were. In the same year, percentage had a ratio of 1.20 to 0.44 percent among boys and girls, respectively, between the ages 7 and 12. In ages 19 to 24, the percentage changed to 0.88 percent in young men, and 0.81 percent in young women.

The youngest among the age groups was the least likely to receive the antipsychotic prescriptions from psychiatrists.

Schoenbaum emphasizes that while a huge number of young boys have been receiving antipsychotic prescriptions for ADHD, most physicians fail to remember there are alternative ways of treating ADHD. Those alternative treatments for ADHD include psychiatric and behavioral therapies, and instead of antipsychotic drugs, stimulants like Ritalin can help in treating the disorder, according to psychiatrists.

Experts say that strong medications such as those using antipsychotics are meant to treat diseases like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Kids are therefore at risk of the side-effects of these drugs and are also missing out on treatments that could be more effective.

The findings of the study are outlined in an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Psychiatry.

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