Dr. Realmuto has heard Dr. DelBello speak several times, and her talks persuaded him to use combinations of Depakote and atypicals in bipolar children, he said. “She’s the leader in terms of doing studies on bipolar,” Dr. Realmuto said.
Some psychiatrists who advocate use of atypicals in children acknowledge that the evidence supporting this use is thin. But they say children should not go untreated simply because scientists have failed to confirm what clinicians already know.
“We don’t have time to wait for them to prove us right,” said Dr. Kent G. Brockmann, a psychiatrist from the Twin Cities who made more than $16,000 from 2003 to 2005 doing drug talks and one-on-one sales meetings, and last year was a leading prescriber of atypicals to Medicaid children.
For Anya Bailey, treatment with an atypical helped her regain her appetite and put on weight, but also heavily sedated her, her mother said. She developed the disabling knot in her back, the result of a nerve condition called dystonia, in 2005.
The reaction was rare but not unknown. Atypicals have side effects that are not easy to predict in any one patient. These include rapid weight gain and blood sugar problems, both risk factors for diabetes; disfiguring tics, dystonia and in rare cases heart attacks and sudden death in the elderly.
In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration received reports of at least 29 children dying and at least 165 more suffering serious side effects in which an antipsychotic was listed as the “primary suspect.” That was a substantial jump from 2000, when there were at least 10 deaths and 85 serious side effects among children linked to the drugs. Since reporting of bad drug effects is mostly voluntary, these numbers likely represent a fraction of the toll.
Jim Minnick, a spokesman for AstraZeneca, said that the company carefully monitors reported problems with Seroquel. “AstraZeneca believes that Seroquel is safe,” Mr. Minnick said.
Other psychiatrists renewed Anya’s prescriptions for Risperdal until Ms. Bailey took Anya last year to the Mayo Clinic, where a doctor insisted that Ms. Bailey stop the drug. Unlike most universities and hospitals, the Mayo Clinic restricts doctors from giving drug marketing lectures.
Ms. Bailey said she wished she had waited to see whether counseling would help Anya before trying drugs. Anya’s weight is now normal without the help of drugs, and her counseling ended in March. An experimental drug, her mother said, has recently helped the pain in her back.