Behavioral Drugs Lead Sales Among Children for First Time, Study Finds
Spending on drugs for attention deficit and other behavior disorders in children has surpassed spending on children's antibiotics and asthma drugs for the first time, according to a study of prescription purchasing by Medco Health Solutions to be released Monday, the AP/St. Petersburg Times reports (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 5/17). The study found that spending on medications to treat children and adolescents for behavioral disorders increased 77% from 2000 to the end of 2003, according to the New York Times. The Times reports that Robert Epstein, Medco's chief medical officer, said the increase "reflect[s] rising prices as growing numbers of young people us[e] newer and more costly drugs" (Freudenheim, New York Times, 5/17). According to the AP/Times, the study of 300,000 children under the age of 19 found a 49% increase in the use of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder treatments by children under age five during the past three years. There was a 23% increase in usage of attention deficit treatments for children overall during that time (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 5/17). The study also found that the number of children taking antidepressants increased 15% in the first three months of 2004, compared with the first quarter of 2003 (New York Times, 5/17). According to the study, while antibiotics are still the most commonly prescribed drug for children, parents are paying more for behavioral drugs. The study found that 5.3% of children took some variety of behavioral medicine in 2003, including 3.4% on attention deficit treatments and 2.3% on antidepressants, with some children taking both. That compares with 44% of children who used antibiotics at some point, 13% who took asthma medicines and 11% who used allergy drugs. However, 17% of drug spending in 2003 for children younger than 19 was for behavioral drugs, compared with 16% for both antibiotics and asthma medications, Epstein said.
Dr. James McGough, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, said, "It's not necessarily a bad thing that these medicines are being used more," adding that children taking attention deficit medicines tend to not abuse substances and do better in school. However, McGough said that the increased use of antidepressants in children "is a concern, because there's little proof they work in young people and evidence shows they might increase suicidal tendencies" (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 5/17). In March, FDA issued a public health advisory that called for new labels on antidepressants warning of the potential risk of suicidal tendencies in patients who take the drugs (California Healthline, 3/23). Dr. Richard Gorman, director of the American Academy of Pediatrics' drugs committee, said that while there may be "initial over-prescribing" of attention deficit disorders, children are normally taken off the treatments if they do not work (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 5/17). Dr. Julie Magno Zito, an associate professor of pharmacy and medicine at the University of Maryland who is directing a study of pediatric drugs, said, "The benefits and risks of using these drugs in a preschool population should be studied systematically" (New York Times, 5/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.