Doctors are prescribing more antidepressants for children and adolescents although there is little evidence about their safety or efficacy in youngsters, researchers said on Thursday.
Prescription rates for young patients under 18 years old rose in nine countries in Europe, North America and South America between 2000-2002.
Britain had the highest rate of increase with 68 percent while Germany, with 13 percent, had the lowest.
“The number of prescriptions in different countries for children with mental illness is increasing,” said Dr Ian Wong of the Centre for Paediatric Pharmacy Research at the University of London.
Wong and his team compared prescribing trends in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico by using information from an international database that contains a representative sample of medical practitioners in each country.
Few clinical trials of children
The findings are reported in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. Although Britain had the highest rate of increase, it had a lower baseline than many other countries in the study.
“In England, the number of prescriptions per child for that kind of illness is actually 10 times lower than in America. When you have a very low baseline the increase is much quicker,” Wong explained.
He believes the results of the study show a growing awareness of depression and mental illness in young people. But he added that if the trend continues it could be worrying because there are so few clinical trails of drugs in children.
Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline Plc was accused in a lawsuit by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer earlier this year of fraudulently suppressing information about its antidepressant Paxil, which is sold as Seroxat in Europe, that showed the drug was broadly ineffective in youngsters and could increase the risks of suicidal behaviour.
The company denied the allegation and responded by publishing the results of nine paediatric trials on its Web site.
“We believe the use of psychotropic medications in children is a global public health issue, which should be studied in partnership with pharmaceutical companies, governments and researchers,” Wong and his colleagues said.