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Depakote Given from the Womb through Kindergarten: Outcome Learning Disabilities?

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Raleigh, NCAnthony's wife took Depakote (divalproex sodium) during her pregnancy; their son has been diagnosed with Autism and ADHD. Carol took the drug while she was pregnant and also during three years of breastfeeding. Her son hasn't yet been diagnosed but Carol and his teacher believe he has a learning disorder.

Over the last few years, LawyersandSettlements has received a number of complaints from distraught parents whose youngsters have cognitive disorders. Incredibly, toddlers are prescribed Depakote for mental disorders, which could feasibly be nothing more than temper tantrums. The Los Angeles Times (October 10, 2011) reported how six-year-old Celia Alves was diagnosed with "a smorgasbord of psychiatric disorders" and prescribed Depakote. But her diagnosis may be incorrect and the risks may outweigh the benefits. The LA Times reported that children like Celia often receive drugs like lithium or Depakote, which can cause severe weight gain, sedation and involuntary muscle contractions. It didn't mention learning disabilities, despite evidence to suggest otherwise.

In 2009, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed, in addition to causing birth defects in the children being born by patients taking the drug, that Depakote can actually lower a child's IQ.

But four-year-old Shelby in Phoenix has been taking Depakote since she was two—when she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, according to Parenting Today. The drug's side effects kicked in: her outbursts lessened but she had "slurred speech, tremors, weight gain, and an inability to walk without stumbling." Her mother got a second opinion—this time she was diagnosed with "a combination of ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)," and the psychologist prescribed Ritalin.

Shelby's second diagnosis begs the question: did Depakote cause ADHD and ODD?

Experts are concerned that not enough is known about Depakote and similar drugs, and how they affect developing brains—even before birth. Depakote hasn't even been approved by the FDA to treat children with mood disorders, although it has been approved for children aged two and older for seizures.

"We have very little research to show how psychiatric medications affect the developing nervous system, for instance," says Mark Olfson, MD, a Columbia University psychiatrist and researcher. "This is a concern."

Back to Carol and Anthony.

"My son has a very hard time learning and concentrating, and I believe he has an undiagnosed learning disorder," says Carol, "which has caused him to be bullied for being slow. He has also matured at a much slower rate and he has a difficult time understanding things he is taught. I am also going to get his spine checked because I have always noticed that his spine curves outwards, but my family doctor shrugged it off as I am worried about that and maybe I should even get his heart checked."

"My son's learning disabilities have taken an emotional toll on the family," says Anthony. "And of course all the time and effort—and money—to get all the therapy and finding a special school to suit his educational needs…"

While Abbot Laboratories, the Depakote manufacturer, is facing a number of lawsuits from people like Carol and Anthony, it is likely good news for the giant drug company that doctors are prescribing Depakote to toddlers. According to a 2007 study in Archives of General Psychiatry, the number of outpatient visits for children diagnosed with bipolar disorder grew from about 200,000 a year in 1995 to 800,000 in 2003. And from recent news reports, that number is on the rise. Is it just a matter of time until the FDA finds that prescribing Depakote to children off-label could possibly cause learning disorders?


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