Prescribing Psychoactive Medication for Children and Adolescents

Revised and approved by the Council on September 20, 2001
To be reviewed

Prescribing psychoactive medications for children and adolescents requires the judgement of a physician, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, with training and qualifications in the use of these medications in this age group. Certainly any consideration of such medication in a child or infant below the age of five should be very carefully evaluated by a clinician with special training and experience with this very young age group. Any child or adolescent for whom medication is a consideration requires an evaluation of the psychiatric disorder, including the symptoms, co-morbid conditions, any other medical conditions, family and psychosocial assessment and school record.

Most psychoactive medications prescribed for children under age 12 do not as yet have specific approval by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA); such approval requires research demonstration safety and efficacy. Such research, so far, lags behind the clinical use of these medications. Efforts to address this deficiency include the development of Research Units of Pediatric Psychopharmacology (RUPP) and recent federal regulations requiring increased studies of medications presented for children and adolescents. Long term studies are needed to adequately determine the safety and efficacy of psychoactive medications. In making decisions to prescribe such medications the physician - specifically the child and adolescent psychiatrist - should consider data from studies in adults in treating the target disorder and/or symptomatology, any clinical or anecdotal reports of use in child and adolescent patients, studies conducted outside the United States and the experience of colleagues.

Anecdotally the prescribing of multiple psychotropic medications ("combined treatment"- "polypharmacy") in the pediatric population seems on the increase. Little data exist to support advantageous efficacy for drug combinations, used primarily to treat co-morbid conditions. The current clinical " state-of-the-art" supports judicious use of combined medications, keeping such use to clearly justifiable circumstances. Medication management requires the informed consent of the parents or legal guardians and must address benefits vs. risks, side effects and the potential for drug interactions.

It is important to balance the increasing market pressures for efficiency in psychiatric treatment with the need for sufficient time to thoughtfully, correctly, and adequately, assess the need for, and the response to medication treatment. Monitoring on-going use of psychoactive medications requires sufficient time to assess clinical response, side effects and to answer questions of the child and family. AACAP opposes the use of brief medication visits (e.g. 15-minute medication checks) as substitute for ongoing individualized treatment. The role of psychosocial interventions, including psychotherapy, must be evaluated, and such interventions must be included in the treatment plan.