Risperidone was the first drug approved to treat children with autism and can help reduce irritability, but the side effects are alarming, according to an informal analysis of the drug.
Risperidone, also known by the brand name Risperdal, is an antipsychotic medication approved to treat adults and children with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and irritability with autism. It is also prescribed off-label for various behavior problems including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention-deficit disorder (ADD), anxiety and depression.
Risperidone has shown to be an effective treatment for the explosive and aggressive behavior expressed by some people with autism, taming tantrums in a matter of weeks. It has also been shown to reduce hyperactivity and repetitive behaviors, often exhibited by people with autism, but it is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for those purposes.
Though effective for some people, the drug has drawbacks. Not all people respond to the treatment, symptoms can return when the drug is discontinued, and it doesn’t improve the core behaviors associated with autism. But the biggest concern are the side effects, which can be alarming when you consider the drug is widely prescribed to children with behavior problems.
Risperidone can cause weight gain from increased appetite, and lead to type 2 diabetes. It has also been associated with a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia, and a life-threatening neurological disorder called neuroleptic malignant syndrome.
Newer studies have linked risperidone use in boys and young men to gynecomastia, a condition in which boys grow breast tissue and, in some cases, lactate. Gynecomastia can be both physically and emotionally painful for boys, and can put them at risk for breast cancer and reproductive damage. Treatment involves surgeries such as liposuction or mastectomy. Many who used the drug say they were never warned of the gynecomastia risks associated with risperidone use.
Several lawsuits have been filed against risperidone maker Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals alleging the companies knew of the gynecomastia risks but failed to warn the public.
Source: Scientific American