One In 13 Schoolchildren Take Medication For Behavioral Disorders

Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

According to a new government report, one in 13 US schoolchildren is taking at least one medication for emotional or behavioral disorders and more than half of the parents of these children maintain that the drugs used are actually working for their kids.

The report is released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a research arm of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We can’t advise parents on what they should do, but I think it’s positive that over half of parents reported that medications helped ‘a lot,’” said report author LaJeana Howie, a statistical research scientist at NCHS.

For the report, which gleaned data from the National Health Interview Survey, Howie and her colleagues found that among children between the ages six and 17, 7.5 percent used prescribed medication for emotional or behavioral difficulties in 2011-2012.

Among those who were prescribed medications, males and non-Hispanic white children were more likely to be on such pills than females and children of other ethnic groups. Among females, the percentage of children who used prescribed medications was higher for older females (6.3 percent) than for younger girls (4.0 percent). There was no significant difference in percentages between younger and older males.

Prescriptions also varied based on health insurance status and poverty status. A higher percentage (9.9 percent) of children with Medicaid or CHIP coverage used prescribed medications compared with those who had private insurance (6.7 percent) or were uninsured (2.7 percent).

Children living in poverty (9.2 percent) used prescribed medicines more than children in families having income at 100-200 percent of the poverty level (6.6 percent). Prescribed medications in children in families having income 200-400 percent of the poverty level and those with incomes more than 400 percent the poverty level were similar – 7.3 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively.

The report also found differences among children in the parent’s perception of the benefit of medication for emotional or behavioral difficulties.

Overall, about 55 percent of the children had a parent report that the medication being used helped the child “a lot”; 26 percent said they helped “some”; and about 19 percent said the medications either helped “a little” or “not at all.”

Howie and her colleagues noted that they were not able to identify which specific disorders the children were being treated for. However, they believe there is a strong likelihood that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could be the main reason medications are prescribed, based on the fact that 81 percent of children with emotional or behavioral difficulties have been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives.

The researchers were also unable to identify the specific medications prescribed to the children in the report.

An expert not involved in the research agreed that ADHD is likely one of the most common conditions involved.

“Although the authors don’t really talk about the diagnoses, ADHD is likely the most overwhelming diagnosis. Oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety and depression are other likely diagnoses,” Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, told HealthDay reporter Serena Gordon.

In regards to the findings in this report, Howie noted that it is difficult to speculate what factors would account for the differences seen.

For his part, Adesman said there are many factors that might contribute to more use of medications in people living under the poverty line and for those on government insurance programs.

“There may be parenting challenges, such as more single-parent households, medications may be more available than access to behavioral treatments, there may be more logistical issues with nonpharmaceutical interventions, like getting time off from work,” Adesman told HealthDay. “Many more families have access to prescription medications than to non-pharmaceutical interventions. There’s a lack of mental health treatment parity.”

“It’s encouraging that children who are identified as taking prescription medications are benefiting from those medications,” Adesman said. However, he added, “There are nonpharmaceutical treatments for virtually all psychiatric diagnoses in children. For households where a child has significant emotional or behavioral difficulties, counseling, behavior management and some forms of psychotherapy can be helpful as well.”

“Over the past two decades, the use of medication to treat mental health problems has increased substantially among all school-aged children and in most subgroups of children,” the researchers wrote in the report. “Data collected by national health surveys play a key role in monitoring and understanding the factors associated with the expanded use of medication for the emotional and behavioral problems of children.”