Fewer Drugs Being Prescribed to Treat Mental Illness Among Kids

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As rates of behavioral disorders like attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety rose among children, so did concerns about treating them with psychotropic drugs.

From the early 1990s to the early 2000s, the number of young children on psychotropic drugs, which include anti-depressants, stimulants, mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety agents, increased by two- to three- fold. Some drugs, including several ADHD medications, have been approved for use in children ages six to 12, while others have not studied long term in younger patients.

But in a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers report that psychotropic drug treatments among children is stabilizing, according to data from a national sample of more than 43,000 kids between the ages of two and five. These drug prescriptions peaked between 2002 and 2005, and leveled off from 2006 to 2009.

(MORE: Majority of Doctors Do Not Follow Treatment Guidelines for ADHD)

While more refined guidelines for diagnosing mood and behavioral disorders among children may explain some of the change in medication use, more stringent warnings about the potential risks of psychotropic drugs on youngsters probably also played a role. In the mid-2000s, the Food and Drug Administration started adding its strictest black box warning to antidepressant medications, alerting doctors and patients to the serious risks these treatments could pose for children and adolescents. For those reasons, more pediatric groups advise doctors to start their youngest patients on behavioral therapies first, before relying on medications to treat their symptoms. “Our findings underscore the need to ensure that doctors of very young children who are diagnosing ADHD, the most common diagnosis, and prescribing stimulants, the most common kind of psychotropic medications, are using the most up-to-date and stringent diagnostic criteria and clinical practice guidelines,” the authors conclude.

However, some recent research showed that more than one in five specialists who diagnose and recommend treatment for preschoolers with ADHD turn to drug therapy first, either alone or in tandem with behavior therapy. But it’s not because these pediatric specialists think that the drugs are more effective or aren’t concerned about the long term effects of the medications. That study also revealed that drug approaches may be the only practical or accessible ones to some parents, since behavior-based methods require a lengthy time commitment and can be costly.

(MORE: ADHD Diagnoses Continue to Climb)

Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports behavior therapy as the first strategy for treating preschoolers diagnosed with ADHD, and suggests that medication should be used only if the behavior therapies were unsuccessful. That approach, pediatric experts hope, will continue to direct psychotropic medications only where they are needed.

2 comments
Ablechild
Ablechild

If this "new study is to give comfort to a Nation that has increased the number of young children on psychotropic drugs, which include anti-depressants, stimulants, mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety agents that has increased by two- to three- fold, it certainly doesn't.

This Nation should question the ethics of allowing the drug companies and psychiatric industry to market their products and services to babies from the age of 2 to 5.  It is also amazing this same study would reveal that drug approaches "may be" the only practical and accessible ones to some parents.  This is a great example of a big pharma article to downplay the massive increase in drug use and still push their drugs as the only solution, which often prove deadly in the long run.


Adrienne_Jones
Adrienne_Jones

"That study also revealed that drug approaches may be the only practical or accessible ones to some parents, since behavior-based methods require a lengthy time commitment and can be costly."

Our son has serious mental illness and requires a multi-faceted approach that includes medications and other therapies. Our insurance has never, ever, not even once, in 7 years on multiple meds, refused to pay for any of his medication. Every other therapy, though? They drag their feet, pay only a little, or pay for only a few sessions, charge us enormous co-pays, or just flat-out refuse to pay. Until the third-party payers start to pay, or until we develop single-payer healthcare, our sickest kids are doomed to inadequate care. No families, except the very wealthiest, can afford the level of care the sickest children need.