There have been over 1,100 adverse reactions reported to Australia’s drug regulatory agency for suicide, suicidal thoughts and behaviour and self-harm. These include the suicides of a 9 year old while on an ADHD drug and 2 suicides for children aged between 10 & 19 linked to antidepressants. Antidepressants have both Australian and International Government warnings for the risk of suicidal behaviour.
No antidepressant in Australia has been registered by the Federal Government for use in children under 18 for depression yet in 2009/10 there were 26,605 children under 16 prescribed an antidepressant, 1,264 of those aged 2-6.
The Children’s Commissioner is examining suicide and self-harm in Australian children. CCHR has lodged a submission to in relation to the role of psychiatric drugs causing suicidal behaviour.
Recommendations in CCHR’s submission are:
i. A Boxed Warning for the risk of suicide must be placed onto antidepressants like the US has. In addition, all Boxed Warnings should be on the packet of the drug so parents are easily able to be more fully informed.
ii. The Federal Government must take responsibility to protect children and ban the off label prescribing of antidepressants for children under 18. If not the rates of suicide and self-harm will only continue to increase.
iii. For every child (and adult) suicide, autopsy’s need to include tests for the presence of psychoactive drugs. Subsequent Coroner’s reports need to indicate the presence of a psychoactive drug at time of suicide (by methods other than drug poisoning). This will then give a true picture of the harm these drugs actually cause to children.
iv. Each child death resulting from psychiatric drug related causes, should be investigated for criminal culpability.
v. Medical Boards investigating cases of negligence or misconduct involving prescription practices that lead to the death of a child should be required by law to report these to the police for criminal investigation. The same should apply to Coronial Inquiries.
vi. Statistics on the numbers of children on psychiatric by drug, age and state need to be published once a year automatically so they can be compared with increased suicide and self-harm rates.
vii. The Therapeutic Goods Administration’s Database of Adverse Events Notifications, needs to include the ability to generate reports which are a summary of the total numbers of different types of adverse reactions including suicide and self-harm as well as the ability to generate these types of summaries specifically for children. If the numbers of children on these drugs is known and the numbers of adverse drug reactions linked to these drugs is also easily known, then the statistics can be compared, monitored and appropriate action taken to protect children.
viii. Funding does need to be spent on ensuring that doctors, hospitals etc report any drug complications from the use of any psychiatric drug to the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Funds should be specifically allocated to inform both parents and the general public of the fact that they can report adverse reactions to any psychiatric drug.
ix. Funding needs to be spent on information sheets for dispensing from doctors, chemists, hospitals, etc relaying the advantages and disadvantages, the side-effects and known risks of the antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs being proposed to parents for their child as well as alternative treatments.
x. For children who are unwell and need care, hospitals/wards need to be turned into places of proper care based on scientific medicine where children can obtain proper care and return home as happy and healthy children.
xi. The government and those who care for children who experience problems should not rely on the psychiatric intervention called the DSM. We ask that when any policies are made or when funding is obtained to assist children that the idea of undertaking searching and competent, non-psychiatric physical examinations to discount any underlying, physical condition as the cause of the child’s mental condition, before any child is “diagnosed,” is considered. This simple expedient would save countless children from being falsely labelled and treated as mentally ill through the use of the DSM. This is not only sound financial judgement, it is sound mental health as well.
xii. Funding should only be given to those mental health services that have been held accountable and are producing results. There are many medical professionals in Australia who genuinely help children and these should be the people and services that receive funding to assist children with problems. Accountability does not mean that the government is just informed by the mental health service that: “The funds were spent on the development of long term screening,” for example. Accountability means providing a full break up of EXACTLY what the funds are for, proven results previously obtained in helping children. This is extremely important considering the actual number of government and non-government mental health organisations receiving funding.