The defense team for 15-year-old Christopher Pittman recently argued that the prescription drug Zoloft caused violent behavior and ultimately led to his 2001 murder of both of his grandparents in South Carolina.
Although jurors in Pittman's case rejected this claim, uncertainty surrounding the effects that antidepressants have on young people has scientists and health care practitioners around the world searching for answers regarding this contentious area in children's mental health. Ronald T. Brown, Ph.D., dean of Temple University's College of Health Professions, chairs the American Psychological Association's Working Group on Psychoactive Medications for Children and Adolescents. The group is examining what, if any, negative effects Zoloft and other psychotropic drugs have on young people. They expect to release a report at the end of this year.
"The use of psychotropic medicines far exceeds what we know about the safety and efficacy of these therapies," said Brown, who has written several books on the subject, including Medications for Children: A Guide for the Practitioner.
The eight-member group of child psychologists and experts in childhood depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder and regulatory issues plans to review and identify the best research currently available in the field. They will then use that information to come up with recommendations for psychologists and other pediatric healthcare practitioners trying to make the best decisions for their young patients.
Although recent events have brought this subject to the forefront, the group began discussing this topic shortly after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a "black box" alert in October 2004, urging manufacturers to label antidepressant drugs with warnings that these medications increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children.
Doctors regularly prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Paxil and Zoloft, or "atypical" antidepressants such as Wellbutrin, to treat clinical depression in individuals under the age of 18. But according to the FDA, Prozac is the only of these drugs approved for major depressive disorders in this group.
"We're not trying to demonize psychotropics, but rather to take a scientifically open stance toward the use of these medications and acknowledge the good that drugs can do when used appropriately, which includes ongoing monitoring of benefits as well as adverse effects," said Brown.
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