SCHOOL truants as young as 11 are being given a powerful ADHD and antidepressant drug in a controversial trial.
The drug, Lovan, is not recommended for anyone under the age of 18 but is being prescribed for children as part of a School Refusal Program being led by Professor Bruce Tonge.
Prof Tonge is chairman of a federal government committee setting new guidelines for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Prof Tonge said the children on the trial and their parents had been warned of potential side-effects of Lovan, including suicidal tendencies.
But Dr Joe Tucci, chief executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation, said that using an ADHD drug for truants was worrying.
"There are many reasons why kids end up not going to school and prescribing medication to sort out what are underlying problems is not the way to go," he said.
Australia's ADHD guidelines are being redeveloped after US psychiatrist Joseph Biederman and two colleagues (whose work is heavily cited in existing draft guidelines) were sanctioned by Harvard University for allegedly failing to report more than $1.6m received from drug firms.
Prof Tonge said the study he was leading through Monash University was independent of, and not funded by, a drug company.
The trial is approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
In the trial, children are given either Lovan, a placebo or counselling.
The School Refusal Program website, within the Monash University website, warns that without treatment, school-refusing children could develop long-term psychiatric problems.
Prof Tonge said the findings would be released next year.
"To date there have been no serious side-effect events," he said.
In 2007, Daryl Effron, who chaired the committee that drew up Australia's draft ADHD guidelines, resigned as chairperson after his ties with pharmaceutical companies that produce ADHD drugs were exposed. He remains on the committee.
Child psychiatrist, Professor Jon Jureidini, who argues against the long-term use of stimulant drugs in treating behavioural problems tagged as ADHD, is now on the ADHD panel.