Drugging the Vulnerable: Atypical Antipsychotics in Children and the Elderly
Pharmaceutical companies have recently paid out the largest legal settlements in U.S. history – including the largest criminal fines ever imposed on corporations – for illegally marketing antipsychotic drugs. The payouts totaled more than $5 billion. But the worst costs of the drugs are being borne by the most vulnerable patients: children and teens in psychiatric hospitals, foster care and juvenile prisons, as well as elderly people in nursing homes. They are medicated for conditions for which the drugs haven’t been proven safe or effective – in some cases, with death as a known possible outcome.
The benefit for drug companies is cold profit. Antipsychotics bring in some $14 billion a year. So-called “atypical” or “second-generation” antipsychotics like Geodon, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Risperdal rake in more money than any other class of medication on the market and, dollar for dollar, they are the biggest selling drugs in America. Although these medications are primarily approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which combined affect 3% of the population, in 2010 there were 56 million prescriptions filled for atypical antipsychotics.
In a presentation this week at an American Psychiatric Association meeting, Dr. John Goethe, director of the Burlingame Center for Psychiatric Research in Connecticut, reported that over the last 10 years, more than half of all children aged 5 to 12 in psychiatric hospitals were prescribed antipsychotics – and 95% of these prescriptions were for second-generation antipsychotics.
Many of these children didn’t have a condition for which the drugs have been shown to be helpful: 44% of youngsters with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 45% of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were treated with them.