Latest reports suggest that around 16,000 Australian children have been prescribed antipsychotics. In 2015, a total of 16,570 teenagers, children and toddlers were prescribed such drugs, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) data has shown. This has amounted to a total cost of $4.1 million.

Antipsychotic drugs carry a number of side effects. Still, these are being overprescribed and are often used as first line treatment. The number of children prescribed with antipsychotics has gone up by about 4,000 between 2012 and 2015.

The Pharmaceutical Benefit Advisory Committee's Drug Utilisation Sub Committee report revealed that in 2012, around 12,680 children and teenagers took antipsychotics in Australia. Moreover, data from Citizens Committee on Human Rights shows that by 2015, 1,383 children aged two to six were prescribed antipsychotics, mostly risperidone.

About 6,030 children in the age group of seven to 11, and 9,156 children in the age group of 12 and 16, were prescribed psychotropic drugs. Risperidone outstripped other antipsychotics by a long mile. Quetiapine came a close second, mostly prescribed to the 12-16 age group.

Medical experts believe that the drugs are prescribed inappropriately. While these should be the last resort, they are in fact used as a first line of treatment. Risperidone figures in particular are very high.

The Australian Commission of Safety and Quality in Healthcare found alarming variations in PBS antipsychotic prescriptions across local areas. For example, antipsychotic prescribing rates in Southern Highlands have been found to be 22.5 times higher in Western Australia's Augusta and Margaret River area, which has the lowest prescribing rates.

“This sort of variation makes you wonder what's going on here. It's enough to say not everyone is providing treatment in the same way. One of the concerns is that prescribing medication is easier to do than delivering evidence-based, high quality psychosocial interventions. Where there is a shortage of resources, you worry that medications are relied on too much,” chairman of the child and adolescent psychiatry faculty at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Dr Paul Robertson, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Robertson added that antipsychotic drugs should never be used in isolation, only with psychological therapy and social support from home and school. The figures suggest that children are not receiving early intervention and psychological interventions for behavioural disturbances in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is because drugs such as risperidone are reportedly given to those severely impaired by ASD. Experts also pointed out that the antipsychotics are prescribed as a form of behaviour restraint instead of psychosis treatment.

Stay tuned on IBT AU for more updates. [In Case You Missed: Antibiotic resistance in Australia: 300 experts meeting in Melbourne to control superbug spread, Dark Age of medical treatment could be back]