CHICAGO -- Soaring numbers of American children are being prescribed antipsychotic drugs -- in many cases, for attention deficit disorder or other behavioral problems for which these medications have not been shown to work, a study found.
The annual number of children prescribed antipsychotic drugs jumped fivefold between 1995 and 2002, to an estimated 2.5 million, the study said.
That is an increase from 8.6 in 1,000 children in the mid-1990s to nearly 40 in 1,000.
But more than half of the prescriptions were for attention deficit and other nonpsychotic conditions, the researchers said.
The findings are worrisome ''because it looks like these medications are being used for large numbers of children in a setting where we don't know if they work," said lead author Dr. William Cooper, a pediatrician at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.
The increasing use of antipsychotics since the mid-1990s corresponds with the introduction of costly and heavily marketed medications such as Zyprexa and Risperdal.
The packaging information for both says their safety and effectiveness in children have not been established.
Antipsychotics are intended for use against schizophrenia, among other psychotic illnesses. Attention deficit disorder is sometimes accompanied by temper outbursts and other disruptive behavior.
As a result, some doctors prescribe antipsychotics to these children to calm them down -- a strategy some doctors and parents say works.