CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- A majority of family physicians and pediatricians are treating children with Prozac-type drugs for mild to moderate mental illness, despite a lack of scientific evidence to support their safety and effectiveness in youngsters, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.
A report of the findings, presented Saturday, May 1, at the Pediatrics Academic Societies Annual Conference in San Francisco, focuses on the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the newest class of antidepressant drugs. Currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for patients over 18 years of age, SSRIs have been increasingly prescribed for children since 1992.
Researchers led by Dr. Jerry L. Rushton, a pediatrician and Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, note that "despite a paucity of safety and effectiveness data," over 500,000 prescriptions for SSRIs are written for children and adolescents each year.
"Our survey data suggest that despite a lack of research support, adequate training and comfort with the management of depression, SSRIs are gaining physician acceptance and becoming incorporated into primary care practice," Rushton says.
According to survey responses from nearly 600 family physicians and pediatricians, 72 percent acknowledged having prescribed an SSRI for a patient younger than 18 years of age. Just 8 percent reported having received adequate training in the management of childhood depression, and 16 percent "reported feeling comfortable" with the care of depressed children.
"We found that SSRIs were the most common type of medication used for childhood depression, comprising 69 percent of all primary care prescriptions," Rushton says. He notes that 67 percent of respondents said they had written SSRI prescriptions for children and young adolescents with mild to moderate depression.