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Saturday, December 9, 2017

What Parents Should Know About Risperdal

From the Child Mind Institute

By Caroline Miller
December 4, 2017

Pros and cons of this medication, used to treat children with severe behavior problems.


Risperdal is a medication that’s widely used to treat children who are aggressive or excessively irritable. Though it was originally approved to treat psychosis, its use in children, including those with autism or ADHD diagnoses, has grown dramatically over the last two decades.

That’s because Risperdal can successfully calm down kids with severe behavior problems, enabling them to function in school and within their families. Without it, some would require residential treatment.

But Risperdal (generic name risperdone) can have serious side effects, and it’s important to make sure a child taking it is monitored carefully. Parents should know what the medical community agrees are the “best practices” to be followed by a doctor who prescribes Risperdal, to insure good treatment.

Here are the basics about Risperdal: what it’s used for, potential side effects, and how a child on Risperdal should be monitored.

What is Risperdal for?

Risperdal is what is called an atypical, or second-generation antipsychotic (SGA). It was a new kind of antipsychotic approved by the Federal Drug Administration in the 1990s to treat the symptoms of psychosis in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Now it is more widely used to treat aggression and irritability in both dementia patients, often in inpatient facilities, and in children.

Many kids on the autism spectrum take Risperdal to reduce behavior problems like aggression or self-injury, and the FDA has approved it for that use. But it’s also prescribed to many kids who have conduct disorders like ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) or DMDD (disruptive mood dysregulation disorder).

When kids act out dangerously or are at risk of getting kicked out of school or removed from the home, they may be given Risperdal or another SGA to calm them down. For kids who do not have an autism diagnosis, these prescriptions are off-label — that is, they are not an FDA-approved use for the drug. But a substantial body of evidence suggests they are effective in reducing persistent behavioral problems.

Why is Risperdal controversial?

Risperdal is controversial because side effects that include substantial weight gain and metabolic, neurological and hormonal changes that can be harmful. Some experts are concerned that children are being treated with the drug in lieu of other treatment — including behavioral treatment — that could be effective without the risk of these side effects.

Risperdal has been in the news over the last several years because of thousands of lawsuits from families who say they were not informed about side effects that might adversely affect their kids, and the kids were not taken off the medication when problems developed.

Many of the suits are on behalf of boys who, in a rare side effect, developed breasts because of an increase in a hormone called prolactin.

Problems in School and at Home

Wendy Moyal, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute, describes a common scenario in which Risperdal is prescribed because a child’s aggressiveness or irritability has become acutely problematic. This behavior often presents in early adolescence, says Dr. Moyal. “These are kids who are very aggressive, meaning they might push, shove, punch, break furniture.”

When these kids can’t control their tempers, they may be a danger to other children, their parents and themselves. “Sometimes their parents are so desperate they have considered calling 911,” Dr. Moyal notes. Or the child might already have been sent to the emergency room after an outburst at school.

For kids in crisis, Risperdal is often clinicians’ first choice for stabilizing the situation. If it’s not a crisis, they recommend that other treatments be tried first.

Behavioral Therapy

Most experts, including Dr. Moyal, stress the importance of thoroughly investigating the causes of aggressive behavior as part of the evaluation for medication.

Behavior problems can have many different sources, including undiagnosed anxiety, ADHD, learning disorders, trauma and medical problems. Treating those problems may alieviate the behavior issues in a more effective (and lasting) way than giving the child antipsychotic medication.

For children with disruptive behavior problems that haven’t reached a crisis stage, experts’ first choice for treatment is behavioral therapy, including parent training, to rein things in. Depending on the level of risk, Dr. Moyal says she might recommend a first trial of behavioral therapy, or medication together with behavioral therapy.

Related

Alternative Medications

In a more stable situation, Dr. Moyal also favors first trying more targeted medications with fewer side effects. For instance, in a child with ADHD, stimulants (Ritalin or Aderall) or non-stimulant ADHD medications like clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay, Nexiclon) or guanfacine (Estulic, Tenex, Intuniv) could reduce impulsive aggression.

For a child with ODD, she says, antidepressants (SSRIs) can help with underlying depression or anxiety that could trigger outbursts.

If these attempts are not effective, Dr. Moyal may try an SGA. Abilify (aripiprazole), which is also approved for irritability in kids on the spectrum and commonly used for aggression, is usually her first choice, because it has fewer side effects than Risperdal, including lower weight gain and endocrine disruption. But medication treatment should always be in combination with behavioral therapy, she stresses, which could include parent training.

The medical community agrees. A survey of treatment recommendations from top experts emphasizes that medication should not replace behavioral therapy.

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