Nearly three out of 10 pediatric specialists have prescribed psychotropic medication to preschoolers with developmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a health ministry survey.
Conducted last fall by a ministry research group, the survey also found that more than half of the doctors who responded have prescribed drugs such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills to children up to second grade in elementary school.
It was the first such survey on prescribing such drugs to children.
Eiji Nakagawa, head of pediatric neurology at the National Center Hospital of the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry in Kodaira, Tokyo, warned of the need to examine the long-term effects of psychotropic medication on children.
“The potential impact on patients’ minds and physical growth arising from the continued use of such medication from an early age has not been examined, although some medication has a direct impact on neurotransmitters and hormonal secretion,” said Nakagawa, who conducted the poll.
Noting that inexperienced doctors may prescribe such medication, Nakagawa said clinical guidelines need to be established by swiftly examining the safety of such medication for children in cooperation with pharmaceutical firms.
The survey of 1,155 pediatric neurologists and doctors certified by the Japanese Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry received responses from 618.
Of the respondents, 175 doctors, or 28 percent, said they had prescribed psychotropic medication to preschoolers, while 339, or 55 percent, said they had done so for children up to the second grade.
When including children up to high school age, 451 of the respondents, or 73 percent, said they had prescribed such drugs.
Such medication was prescribed to address sleeping disorders, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, self-injury and harm to others.
The medication prescribed included risperidone, methylphenidate and sleeping pills.