More US Kids Taking Behavior
Modification Drugs Than Ever


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Prescriptions for drugs to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression in children and teens grew steadily during the late 1990s, according to a study of one US managed care organization.
Researchers found that prescriptions for stimulants used to treat ADHD, such as Ritalin and Adderall, increased 26% between 1995 and 1999 among children and teens enrolled in six health plans. All of the plans were affiliated with UnitedHealth Group in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
Prescriptions for a drug class known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are used to treat depression and anxiety, rose by 62% over the same period, according to findings published in the March-April issue of Ambulatory Pediatrics. SSRIs include brand names like Prozac and Zoloft.
For the study, UnitedHealth researchers Drs. Deborah Shatin and Carol R. Drinkard looked at the use of certain types of psychiatric drugs among health plan enrollees younger than 20, who numbered about 500,000 in 1995 and more than 740,000 in 1999.
They found that the prevalence of stimulant drugs, SSRIs and other types of antidepressants grew steadily during the study period. Children aged 10 to 14 were the most frequent users of stimulants, while SSRIs were most commonly prescribed for 15- to 19-year-olds.
Overall, the proportion of stimulant users in the health plans grew from about 24 per 1,000 kids to 30 per 1,000, the report indicates. SSRI use increased from about 8 per 1,000 to nearly 13 out of 1,000 kids.
According to the researchers, their findings are in line with past studies of US children and teens. They note the prevalence of ADHD may be increasing because of changes in the criteria for diagnosing the disorder, which could explain the increases in medication use.
Keeping track of changes in the prescription of ADHD and depression drugs in children is vital, as there is concern about both the overuse and inadequate use of these medications, Shatin and Drinkard point out.
Overuse creates concern, in part, because the long-range effects of the drugs on the developing brain are unknown, the researchers note. On the other hand, some worry that not treating children with ADHD or depression could result in social and academic problems in the long run.
SOURCE: Ambulatory Pediatrics 2002;2.
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