Should Risperdal be Prescribed to Young Children?
Written by Stephen Fields on December 23, 2013
Kyle Warren was first prescribed Risperdal when he was 18 months old. His pediatrician recommended the drug to prevent temper tantrums which he believed were related to autism. At the time, the drug was approved only in use for schizophrenic or bipolar adults.
Later, in the office of a child psychiatrist, Kyle and other children played with blocks distributed by Johnson & Johnson which said “Risperdal” across their sides.
The experience of Kyle and his family was not an isolated one: the use of powerful antipsychotics to treat young children has ballooned in recent years. A Columbia University study found that use in antipsychotic drugs among children ages 2-5 on private insurance doubled between 2000 and 2007. Of these children, only 40% received a true mental health assessment before being given these antipsychotics.
Some have argued that drug company marketing payments to physicians are behind this increased use of antipsychotics. According to the New York Times, analysis of data from Minnesota, the only state that requires physicians to disclose payments from drug companies, seems to support this allegation.1
From 2000 to 2005, the amount of money being paid to Minnesota psychiatrists grew sixfold. In the same period, the number of antipsychotic prescriptions being written to children covered by Medicaid in the state rose by nine times.
Concerns about Risperdal Side Effects
Numerous doctors have expressed concern over this increase in antipsychotic prescriptions for young children. Ben Vitiello, the chief of child and adolescent treatment at the National Institute of Mental Health, remarked to the New York Times that the widening prescription of antipsychotics to children is “a recent phenomenon, in large part driven by the misperception that these agents are safe and well tolerated.” 2
In fact, antipsychotics, including Risperdal, are associated with serious side effects. One, which Kyle Warren experienced, is weight gain. On the day of his 3rd birthday, he weighed 49 pounds. As most people known, obesity comes with risks of its own, like high blood pressure, joint problems, and diabetes.
In other boys taking Risperdal, the drug has been linked to a condition called gynecomastia, in which breast tissue becomes overdeveloped. Although Johnson & Johnson has argued that some young men naturally develop this condition during puberty, the families of these children say that this is not the case.
Risperdal is known to increase the levels of the hormone prolactin in the body. Prolactin is naturally present in both men and women, but its main function is to enable milk production in pregnant and nursing women. When its levels are elevated due to use of Risperdal, it may cause male breast growth and even abnormal milk production, called galactorrhea.
With the help of a therapy team from Tulane University, Kyle has been weaned off Risperdal and now takes a single medication which his mother believes is more appropriate. He suffers no lasting affects from the disease. Unfortunately, other children are less fortunate, and grapple with side effects even after they discontinue their medication.
Risperdal Concerns Lead to Lawsuits
As concerns about Risperdal’s side effects for children have grown, so have Johnson & Johnson’s legal troubles: numerous families affected by gynecomastia have begun to file lawsuits against the company, alleging that it did not adequately warn them about Risperdal’s risks.
The United States Department of Justice has also gotten involved, accusing the drug company of inappropriately marketing its drugs to children and seniors, in whom it increased the risk of stroke. Johnson & Johnson recently agreed to settle the claim for $2.2 billion.
Unfortunately, children who developed breasts while taking Risperdal still have not been compensated for their injuries. If you or your child were diagnosed with gynecomastia after taking Risperdal, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit claim for compensation.
To learn more about your legal rights, contact our Risperdal lawsuit attorneys at 1-888-210-9968. The consultation is free, and there are no legal fees unless you are compensated for your injuries.