Preschoolers Now Being Prescribed Psychiatric Drugs Less Often
September 30, 2013

Preschoolers Now Being Prescribed Psychiatric Drugs Less Often

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

After going through a period of increasing prevalence, psychiatric drugs are being prescribed less to preschoolers than they were a decade ago, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The national study of two to five year old children, conducted from 1994 to 2009, indicated that the use of psychiatric prescription drugs, such as ADHD or anxiety medications, peaked between 2002 and 2005 then backed off between 2006 and 2009. The study noted increased use of these medications on boys, white children and those without private health insurance.

"I'm very excited that the use of these drugs in this age group seems to be stabilizing," study author Dr. Tanya Froehlich, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, told Andrew Seaman of Reuters Health.

"It's good to get a gauge on what we're doing with psychotropic medications in this age group, because we really don't know what these medications do to the developing brain," she added.

In the study, the research team culled national data on about 44,000 doctors’ visits for children ages two to five. During the 16-year study period, the ratio of psychiatric drug prescriptions varied between one prescription for every 217 visits in 1998 and one for every 54 visits in 2004.

"The likelihood of receiving a behavioral diagnosis increased in 2006 to 2009, but this was not accompanied by an increased propensity toward psychotropic prescription," Froehlich noted. "In fact, the likelihood of psychotropic use in 2006-2009 was half that of the 1994-1997 period among those with a behavioral diagnosis."

The researchers weren’t able to definitively explain why the rate of prescription drug use dropped in 2006 to 2009, but they theorized that it may be the result of increasing awareness surrounding potential side effects of these types of psychiatric medications. One incident that may have contributed to that awareness is the 2004 warning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued about a connection between antidepressant use among children and suicide risk. Other conditions, including diabetes and obesity, have also been connected to the use of antipsychotics among children.

"I think this is an area that has gotten a fair amount of public attention and it could be this is parents and physicians stepping back from a willingness to prescribe these medications," Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told Reuters Health.

"What really is important is that a thorough assessment be conducted before any decision is made about prescribing medications," he added.

"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 psychotropic medications, are using the most up-to-date and stringent diagnostic criteria and clinical practice guidelines," Froehlich concluded. "Furthermore, given the continued use of psychotropic medications in very young children and concerns regarding their effects on the developing brain, future studies on the long-term effects of psychotropic medication use in this age group are essential."