Researchers have called for urgent studies into the long-term safety of newer antiepileptic drugs after discovering that the number given to children has increased significantly over recent years.
When the UK team studied antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) given to nearly 8,000 children over a 13-year period, they discovered that overall prescribing had risen by 19 per cent and there had been a five-fold increase in prescribing of newer AEDs.
"EMEA recommended further research into 21 antiepileptic drugs for children but didn't indicate which ones should be prioritised" explains Professor Ian Wong from the Centre for Paediatric Pharmacy Research, a collaborative project run by the School of Pharmacy at the University of London, the UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital.
"The American Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health have been leading the process for paediatric drug reform over the last ten years. And the European Union has proposed the "Better Medicines for Children" regulation and devised a research strategy to improve paediatric medicines research in the hope of increasing the availability of licensed medicines for children" he says.
Concerns over paediatric AEDs have risen in recent years after prescribing restrictions were issued on vigabatrin in the late 1990s following reports that one-third of users suffered from visual field defects, ranging from asymptomatic to severe and potentially disabling.
In 2004, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence - the UK Government's advisory body on therapeutic interventions - stated that vigabatrin should only be prescribed in cases of West's Syndrome (infantile spasms) and then only by an epilepsy specialist, a neurologist or a paediatric neurologist.
"Our research found that paediatric prescribing of antiepileptic drugs showed a significant increase over the study period and that newer AEDs are increasingly being prescribed in preference to more tried and tested conventional drugs.