Dangerous Anti-Psychotic Drugs Used Inappropriately to Treat Children with ADHD

Child with psychosis

A new study has found that an alarming number of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are prescribed high-risk antipsychotic drugs.

Researchers looked at a large sample of children and youth found that a significant percentage of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are receiving prescriptions for not only stimulant medications, but also antipsychotics. This type of medication has many risks and is not approved or recommended for use in children diagnosed with ADHD.

The study was conducted in Ontario, Canada and published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. The authors studied the charts of more than 10,000 Canadian youth aged one through 24 years in age. Approximately five percent of the total youth analyzed were diagnosed with ADHD and 70 percent of those children were prescribed medication. Twelve percent of them received a prescription antipsychotic. Of the children with ADHD, 28 percent had no other mental health diagnosis.

The authors note that the number of ADHD-diagnosed children receiving antipsychotic medications was substantial. Of those, the majority of prescriptions were for Risperidone and antidepressants. Risperidone, also known as Risperdal, is not intended to be used in treating ADHD. The drug carries many adverse risks, including the development of psychosis. Further, the authors supply that there is limited evidence to support the use of antipsychotic medications for ADHD, and very little information concerning their long-term use and appropriate timeline for discontinuation.

A surprising find was that the only predictor for prescription antipsychotics found among the study’s review of the medical records was a psychiatric consultation. With less than one percent of the children in the population being diagnosed with psychosis, antipsychotic prescriptions were not supported by a more severe diagnosis.

ADHD medication patterns are very similar between Canada and the United States. In the United States, antipsychotics are used in addition to stimulant medications in six to seven percent of youth, and in individuals with severe ADHD who do not respond to behavior therapy, a rate of antipsychotic use as high as 13 percent has been reported. Additionally, ADHD is the most common diagnosis among children and youth treated with antipsychotics in the US.

This authors found that youth in the study were identified as having ADHD if their primary health practitioner presented them with the diagnosis, regardless of how the doctor came to that decision. Many children are given this diagnosis on the basis of nothing more than a parent or teacher report during a brief primary care office visit. This study calls into question the need and reason for prescribing antipsychotic medications in such alarming numbers for children whose only diagnosis is ADHD. Parents should be very wary of using these medications for their children, and must ask questions of their child’s prescriber before accepting these prescriptions.


Hauck, T.S., Lau, C., Li Foa Wing, L., Kurdyak, P. and Tu, K. (2017). ADHD treatment in primary care: Demographic factors, medication trends and treatment predictors. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 1-34. doi: 10.1177/0706743716689055.

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