Monday, 10 September 2007
Government drug buying agency Pharmac is baffled by antidepressant prescription figures for very young children and is facing the task of re-checking each one.
Pharmac records suggest thousands of prescriptions a year are being written for children under 10, a newspaper report says.
They are not usually prescribed to children younger than eight, and more commonly are not used on those younger than 13.
Depression is not found in babies and doctors spoken to could see no reason for prescribing antidepressants for them.
They are powerful psychiatric drugs with potentially severe side-effects.
"I can't understand them (the figures)," said medical director Dr Peter Moodie.
Wrong coding of dates of birth could explain the single-digit figures, "but when it's hundreds, one assumes the figures are right".
Dr Moody said Pharmac would look to see which doctors had prescribed the antidepressants for children.
The Government's drugs regulator, Medsafe, warned in 2004 that antidepressants could increase the risk of suicide.
For children and adolescents, it said, the risk of suicidal ideas and behaviour from newer antidepressants called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) generally outweighed their benefits.
Older "tricyclic" antidepressants were not generally recommended for those under 18 because of the risk of heart problems.
The number of state-funded antidepressant prescriptions has nearly doubled since 2000 to more than a million a year, costing the Government about $30 million.
Figures given by Pharmac to the United Future Party show 4728 antidepressant prescriptions were written for children under 10 in 2004-05, almost halving to 2425 in the last June year.
Causing most alarm are the figures for babies, even though they dropped sharply during the three years.
For one-year-olds, 768 prescriptions were written in 2004-05, down to 24 by last year. For those under one, there were 453 prescriptions in 2004-05 but only nine last year.
The numbers also declined for every other age group under 10, but each group remained in the hundreds last year.
Antidepressants are used for conditions including severe depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bulimia nervosa.
The tricyclic type were previously used to control bed-wetting, but this could not explain the prescriptions for babies.
Commonly reported side-effects of the SSRIs fluoxetine and paroxetine include diarrhoea, insomnia, sleepiness and tremors.
Pharmac yesterday said that the figures were correct but but that it was mystified by them.