Australian children under 10 prescribed antidepressants
By Julie-Anne Davies
December 03, 2008 12:01am
- 4000 kids on antidepressants, 48 babies
- Experts appalled
- Numbers "beyond comprehension"
The Commonwealth Department of Health statistics give an alarming, although most likely conservative, age-by-age breakdown of the national use of antidepressants.
Leading pediatricians and psychiatrists can offer no reason why infants would be given the drugs.
Depression expert Gordon Parker said the numbers were "beyond comprehension" and urged the federal Government to ask doctors responsible for supplying scripts for young children to justify their actions.
Professor Parker, the executive director of the Black Dog Institute, said: "At first pass it is beyond comprehension that more than 500 Australian children – aged one to five years – have received an antidepressant drug.
"When the particular drugs are considered, the risk of significant side effects – let alone their efficacy – is of key concern. It strikes me that there would be wisdom in having the doctors justify such prescriptions to determine whether there are any justifiable reasons for such surprising data."
The figures – obtained by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a lobby group opposed to antidepressant therapy – are based on Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule data that covers only people who received a subsidised prescription. Most antidepressants are sold privately.
Asked what circumstances might lead to a baby being treated with an antidepressant drug, the spokesman for the pediatric division of the Royal Australian College of Physicians, John Wray said: "None that come to mind. The college would like to know who is prescribing these drugs to such young children and why."
Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing Jan McLucas said the Government would be "very concerned if antidepressant medications were being inappropriately prescribed and dispensed, particularly to children".
The Therapeutic Goods Administration said in a statement last night it was powerless to regulate the use of off-label medicines as it was not illegal for doctors to prescribe drugs for non-approved indications.
But it said there might be medical practice and medico-legal implications associated with prescribing a medication outside its approved indications.
The Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee warns doctors against prescribing any of the SSRI antidepressant drugs to children under 18 – aside from two that are approved for obsessive compulsive disorder in children aged over six years – and points out that the drug companies themselves advise against their use for any condition.
There are numerous examples in the health department figures that show doctors are ignoring the warnings.