CHILDREN as young as one are being prescribed powerful anti-psychotic drugs that have been linked to deaths overseas.

The strong medication is designed to quell psychotic episodes normally experienced by adults with schizophrenia and bi-polar.

There
are concerns some doctors are illegitimately writing scripts for
pre-schoolers and primary school children for unapproved medical
reasons, such as behavioural problems or ADHD.

Figures provided
by the Therapeutic Goods Administration showed up to 3351 NSW children
aged under 18 were prescribed the drugs in 2007-08.

Of them, at
least 62 toddlers aged five and under — including five one-year-olds
— were prescribed the drugs in NSW in that period.

"You can
assume children under 12 are illegitimately being prescribed these
drugs for behaviour problems. It should not be the case," University of
South Australia's associate professor in psychiatry Dr Jon Jureidini
said yesterday.

"These drugs are not marketed or recommended by the TGA for that use."

Common
medications such as Risperdal, Zyprexa and Abilify are not approved for
children under five. The TGA has approved Risperdal to treat children
with autism.

Side effects can be so severe in adults that elderly patients with dementia are warned they have a higher risk of sudden death.

In the United States, 45 children died while taking anti-psychotic drugs between 2000 and 2004.

Common side effects include excessive weight gain, low blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes and painful muscle spasms.

Royal
Australasian College of Psychiatrists' Dr Louise Newman argued that in
some cases there was a need for children and toddlers to be placed on
the drugs.

"They could suffer neurological disorders where the
brain might have lesions. It is wrong that we don't talk about children
with depression and other psychological disorders," she said.

"I treat children who are suffering depression or they have behavioural issues because their parent is depressed."

In
2007-08, almost 10,000 children under 18 throughout Australia were
prescribed anti-psychotic medication, costing the Government $3.4
million.

Professor Vaughan Carr from the Schizophrenia Research
Institute said it would be "good to have first-rate drug surveillance
in place to record [reasons] for the prescription" to track the growing
problem.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Ageing said the prescribing of drugs was up to the doctor's discretion.

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