Monday, 10 Sep, 2007 Health & Fitness

Doctors Prescribe Antidepressants for Babies


According to the records of the national drug buying agency Pharmac, thousands of antidepressant drugs prescriptions are annually given for children under 10. Medical authorities are seriously concerned by the figures showing that antidepressants are prescribed even for kids less than a year old. Babies are not subjected to depression and doctors could not name any reason for giving them antidepressant drugs.

It's not a secret that antidepressants are powerful psychiatric drugs that often have severe side-effects. According to the recent research, antidepressants could increase the risk of suicide. They shouldn't be prescribed to children under 8, and as a rule are not prescribed for those under 13.

Considering children and adolescents, the risk of suicide from newer generation of antidepressants known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) even exceeded their benefits. As for the older generation of 'tricyclic' antidepressants, they are not generally recommended for those younger than 18 as they may cause heart problems.

Since 2000, the number of antidepressant prescriptions funded by the state has almost doubled to reach over a million a year. Antidepressant cost the Government about $30 million. Figures provided by Pharmac to the United Future Party suggest that 4728 antidepressant prescriptions were given for children under 10 in the period of 2004-05, having declined to 2425 in the last June year.

However, the most alarming are the figures for babies, even though they have dropped significantly during the three years.

For 1-year-old babies, 768 prescriptions were registered in 2004-05, with the figures fallen down to 24 by last year. For those babies under 1, there were 453 prescriptions written in 2004-05 , and 9 prescriptions during last year. The numbers also diminished for every other age group younger than 10, with each group remaining in the hundreds last year.

Antidepressants are usually prescribed for such conditions as anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, severe depression, and bulimia nervosa. As for the tricyclic type, these antidepressants were previously prescribed to control bed-wetting, still it does not explain the prescriptions for babies. The most common side effects caused by the drugs are insomnia, diarrhea, tremors, and sleepiness.

Doctors who studied the figures can't explain them. Coding of dates of birth could provide explanation for the single-digit figures, but not for the hundreds.

According to United Future health spokeswoman Judy Turner, the figures are really frightening. Mrs. Turner explained that only 15 per cent of babies' brain is fully developed ,while 85 per cent of the brain development takes place from 0 to 3 years. Thus, the antidepressants will interfere with the hard-wiring of the baby's brains and may seriously damage their long-term wellbeing.

Emeritus Professor John Werry, a child psychiatrist, expressed another opinion - as far as he knows giving SSRI antidepressants to babies would be of no harm to them. However, he acknowledged the medications infkuence basic bio-cyclic processes.

Some doctors were skeptical of the Pharmac figures. Pharmac is planning to re-check the figures and investigate which doctors had given the antidepressant prescriptions for children.

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