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Should Antipsychotic Drugs Be Given to Children?, Part 1

In tonight's Eye on America, CBS News begins a hard-news investigation into the use of new and powerful antipsychotic prescription drugs for problem children.

One problem with using such drugs is possible severe side effects in these children that could last a lifetime. CBS's Wyatt Andrews has been investigating the risks and benefits.

Ronnie Hall, who turns 10 this week, is struggling to look normal, but watch carefully what he does with his hands. Involuntarily, Ronnie clenches his fingers and thumbs. His constant state of twitching is a form of brain damage called tardive dyskinesia.

His mother, Carole, recorded Ronnie's affliction on this home video. She and Ronnie's doctor believe the cause is a cocktail of antipsychotic drugs Ronnie began taking at age 3 after a diagnosis of conduct disorder. The problem is the labels on these drugs, the most popular of which is called Risperdal, specifically warn that tardive dyskenesia is a possible side effect in one out of six adult patients. For children, safety and effectiveness have not been established at all.

"They need to do more testing with these drugs," says Carole Hall.

It turns out tardive dyskenisia is just one of many well-known side effects of antipsychotic drugs. Child advocate and Miami law professor Carolyn Salisbury has seen them all.

"I had a male client, a 16-year-old boy, who--his breasts began growing large and he began lactating [producing milk]," say Salisbury. "He was humiliated."

Risperdal is part of a class of drugs called atypical antipsychotics, which are known for having relatively few side effects in mentally ill adults. Now, however, these drugs are increasingly prescribed for children despite Food and Drug Administration warnings that their safety is unknown.

Advocates like Carolyn Salibury say the problem is especially bad in state-run programs like foster care.

"The number of foster-care kids on these drugs is horrifying," says Salisbury.

Florida officials--who admit they do not know the number of kids on strong psychotropics--say drugs like Risperdal are necessary. Charles Auslander of the Department of Children and Families says Risperdal can allow a mentally ill or violent child to function normally.

"Without the use of these medications, there would not be the opportunity for other treatments or other interventions to be utilized," says Auslander.

The maker of Risperdal, Johnson & Johnson, declined an on-camera interview, but has told child advocates it does not promote Risperdal for use in children.

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