Long-term use of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal in children can reduce bone mass and prevent bone growth, according to a new study presented at the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology’s annual meeting. Similar results were found in children treated long-term with antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
Risperdal, also known by the generic risperidone, is used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and irritability with autism. In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the medication for use in children and adolescents with those disorders, though the drug’s maker Janssen Pharmaceuticals had illegally marketed the medication to doctors for use in children years earlier.
For years, critics have raised concerns about the safety of treating children and adolescents with Risperdal. Currently, Janssen and its parent company Johnson & Johnson face hundreds of lawsuits alleging the company withheld information about Risperdal side effects, including gynecomastia, a condition in which young boys grow breasts.
The latest study involved 94 boys ages 9 to 14 who had been treated with Risperdal for a mean of 2.5 years or SSRIs for a mean of 1.6 years by the time they had entered the study. Eighteen months later, a quarter of the boys were no longer taking Risperdal. The boys who continued on Risperdal showed a significant decline in bone mineral density as well as failure to accrue bone mass.
Researchers say this is the first study to focus on skeletal effects with Risperdal or SSRI use, and it raises clear concerns of the adverse effects the drugs have on bone mineralization, which peaks during childhood and adolescence.
“While nonpharmacologic and lower-risk medications should always be considered first, risks of potential adverse medication effects need to be balanced against the known risk of untreated or undertreated psychiatric disorders in youth,” researchers said.