Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:21pm EDT
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Up to a third of children and adolescents who took common antipsychotic drugs for the first time became overweight or obese in as little as 11 weeks, raising their risk for diabetes and heart disease, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.
They said doctors who prescribe antipsychotics to children should carefully consider the benefits against the risks.
"These data confirm prior findings that children and adolescents are highly vulnerable to antipsychotic medication," Dr. Christopher Varley and Dr. Jon McClellan of the Seattle Children's Hospital wrote in a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"These results challenge the widespread use of atypical antipsychotic medications in youth," they wrote.
Dr. Monica Michell, a child psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York who was not involved with the study, said it "cautions us and underscores the long-term potential harm that these medicines can do."
"For children who are not psychotic or bipolar, these medicines should be a last resort," she said by email.
The study looked at four of the most common antipsychotic drugs used in children -- Johnson & Johnson's Risperdal or risperidone, Eli Lilly's Zyprexa or olanzapine, Bristol-Myers Squibb's Abilify or aripiprazole and AstraZeneca's Seroquel or quetiapine.
The researchers, led by Dr. Christoph Correll of Zucker Hillside Hospital and the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York, studied 272 children and teens aged 4 to 19 with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and disruptive or aggressive behavior spectrum disorders.
After roughly 11 weeks, those who took Zyprexa gained an average of 18.7 pounds (8.5 kg), those on Seroquel gained 13.4 pounds (6.1 kg), those on Risperdal gained 11.7 pounds (3.5 kg) and those on Abilify gained 9.7 pounds (4.4 kg).
Altogether, 10 percent to 36 percent of patients became overweight or obese within 11 weeks. Changes in cholesterol levels and other measures varied by drug, the team reported.
Only two atypical antipsychotics are already approved for youth -- Risperdal and Abilify. But in June, a Food and Drug Administration panel of experts backed wider use of Zyprexa, Seroquel and Pfizer's Geodon for children and teens.
At the time, many panel members expressed concern about rising sales of the drugs to young people and the lack of long-term safety studies.
They were especially worried about the chance the drugs might be misused to treat other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The FDA has yet to act on the panel's endorsement.
Last November, a panel of outside experts called on the FDA and other U.S. health agencies to study the long-term effects of prescribing antipsychotic drugs to children