Study Questions New
Prozac-Like Drugs For Children

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Reuters) - Researchers Saturday questioned the widespread use of Prozac-like drugs to treat mild or moderate mental illness in children despite lack of scientific evidence about their safety or effectiveness.
More than 500,000 prescriptions a year are written for the newest class of antidepressant drugs -- SSRIs, or serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors -- without scientific evidence of the drugs' safety and effectiveness in children, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher Jerry Rushton said.
``Our survey data suggests that despite a lack of research support, adequate training and comfort with the management of depression, SSRI's are gaining physician acceptance and becoming incorporated into primary care practice,'' Rushton said in a statement released by the university.
Rushton, who presented results of a survey of physicians' prescription practices Saturday to a pediatric medical conference in San Francisco, said SSRIs now account for 69 percent of prescriptions written to treat childhood depression.
He said Prozac, the most-commonly prescribed SSRI for children, may be following Ritalin as the drug of choice in the controversial treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration for patients over 18 years of age, SSRIs also are being prescribed for children to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, aggression- conduct disorder and even bed-wetting, he said.
Rushton said the effects of ``psychoactive'' drugs like SSRIs on developing central nervous system are still unknown, and the drugs have been documented to cause sleep disturbances and behavioral changes in children.
``I think these medications are starting to show promise,'' he said. ``However, they should be used with caution and monitored closely, not used haphazardly for transient symptoms -- not for school problems or nebulous behavioral problems.''
Children Being Prescribed Adult Depression Drugs
By Norman Hermant CBC TV 5-2-99
TORONTO - A whole family of pharmaceuticals originally developed to treat depression in adults are now being used to help manage a wide range of mental illness in all ages.
Prozac and other anti- depressants are being prescribed to a growing number of children. There are no Canadian statistics. But in the U.S,, the drugs are prescribed to half a million children a year.
A new report just released. surveyed nearly 600 U.S. family doctors and paediatricians. Seventy-two per cent said they had prescribed prozac-like drugs for patients under 18.
Two-thirds of those prescriptions were for depression. But there were also many prescriptions for things such as attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, even bedwetting.
It's not known what long term effects these drugs will have on children. There are no clear age or dosage guidelines because nearly all of the tests have been done on adults.
But Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Leigh Soloman says when they are used responsibly and in the proper circumstances, antidepressants can be a lifeline. "If a child is truly depressed, I think they deserve the best treatment that we have to offer. And while medication would not be the first thing that is offered, it is part of the comprehensive treatment."
The debate is reminiscent of the controversy surrounding the drug Ritalin, which is commonly prescribed for hyperactivity. There's growing concern it is being taken by far too many children.
This latest report raises the same questions about other drugs being prescribed for children.