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U.S. reviews increasing use of antipsychotic drugs on children in the Medicaid system

Posted: August 12, 2013 |   Comments

( The inspector general's office at the Department of Health and Human Services says it recently began a review of antipsychotic drug use by Medicaid recipients under the age of 18. Various agencies within the HHS are also requiring officials in all 50 states to tighten oversight of prescriptions of antipsychotics to Medicaid-eligible young people.

This move applies to a new class of antipsychotic drugs called "atypicals," including Abilify, Risperdal, Seroquel, and Zyprexa, which were developed to replace medications like Haldol and Thorazine, which date back to the 1950s and cause severe side effects such as uncontrollable twitching.

The drugs were originally developed to treat conditions like schizophrenia, but some have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment in children with conditions such as bipolar disorder and irritability associated with autism.

Medicaid spent $3.6 billion on antipsychotic medications in 2008, more than any other type of drug. Abilify is the number one selling prescription drug in America.

The number of people under age 20 receiving Medicaid-funded prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs tripled between 1999 and 2008, according to an analysis by Mathematica.

Dr. Stephen Cha, a chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, says the government wants to reduce "the unnecessarily high utilization of antipsychotics." He also urges doctors to consider alternatives to doping up children, including actually making an effort with therapy, which might help children and families cope with the underlying issues that could be the root of behavioral problems.

The FDA's approval of some of the new drugs to treat certain pediatric conditions, coupled with concern about possible side effects on young people and growing off-label use by doctors to treat various forms of violent or aggressive behavior, has sparked debate about whether they are being dispensed too freely to troubled children.

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