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Study Sees Association Between Ritalin, Other Psychotropic Drugs, and Birth Defects

Jun 28, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Psychotropic medications, including Ritalin, Prozac and Haldol, have been linked to an increased risk of birth defects, according to researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Studies.

“A range of serious side effects such as birth deformities, low birth weight, premature birth, and development of neonatal withdrawal syndrome were reported in children under two years of age, most likely because of the mother’s intake of psychotropic medication during pregnancy,” associate professor Lisa Aagaard of the University of Copenhagen recently told ScienceDaily.

To reach their conclusions, Aagard and her colleague, Professor Ebbe Holme Hansard, studied all 4,500 pediatric adverse drug reaction reports submitted to the Danish Medicines Agency during the study period to find those which were linked to psychotropic medications. Of those, 429 of these reactions were due to drugs classified as psychiatric medications, 56 percent of which were classified as serious.

Half of the psychiatric medication reaction seen occurred in adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17, and 45 percent of these were serious. However, another 20 percent of the reactions were in children under the age of 2.

Of the adverse reactions seen in children under 2, around that 42 were associated with psychostimulants, such as Ritalin, followed by 31 percent for antidepressants, such as Prozac, and 24 percent for antipsychotics, such as Haldol.

All but one of these reactions were categorized as serious, and two were fatal, the study found. The fatalities were both in newborns caused by rare birth defects thought to be related to maternal use of SSRI antidepressants.

While only seven serious adverse drug reactions in the very young children were reported as due to maternal use during pregnancy, the researchers said they suspect that other problems seen among these children were also due to their mothers’ use of psychotropic drugs during pregnancy.

“Psychotropic medication should not be prescribed in ordinary circumstances, because this type of medication has a long half-life. If people take their medicine as prescribed it will be a constantly high dosage, and it could take weeks for one single tablet to exit the body’s system,” Aagaard told Science Daily. “Three out of four pregnancies are planned, and therefore society must take responsibility for informing women about the serious risks of transferring side effects to their unborn child.”

The result of the study are published in the June issue of the journal BMC Research Notes.

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