Prescription Drug Use by Children Growing Faster Than Other Groups, Study Says
Prescription drug use by people under age 19 is growing faster than it is for any other age group in the United States, with prescription spending on young people having risen 85% over the past five years, according to a study released today, the New York Times reports. However, the study does not indicate that children take more medications than adults do; in 2001, children accounted for 5% of prescription drug expenses (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 9/19). Researchers from Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefits manager and a subsidiary of drug maker Merck, analyzed prescription drug usage data for 500,000 people under age 19. Medco has 65 million beneficiaries, the Wall Street Journal reports. Prescription drug spending in 2001 for people under 19 increased nearly 28% over the amount spent in 2000. In comparison, spending in 2001 rose 23% for people between ages 35 and 49 and rose 10% for people ages 65 and older over the amounts spent in 2000 (Martinez, Wall Street Journal, 9/19). The study also found the following about prescription drug use by children under age 19:
- Approximately 11.7% took allergy drugs in 2001, up from 6% in 1997.
- Use of asthma medications rose from 6.2% in 1997 to 7.4% in 2001.
- Drugs for neurological and psychological disorders were used by 5.3% of people under 19 in 2001, compared with 5% of young people in 1997.
- Use of antibiotics by children remained static at 34% (Appleby, USA Today, 9/19).
- Nearly 49% took one or more prescriptions in the past year, compared with 45.7% in 1997.
- Children on average spent 51 days in 2001 taking a medicine, compared with 38 days in 1997 (New York Times, 9/19).
The Journal reports that the spending increase for young people can be attributed to an upswing in the number of available medicines, an increase in diagnoses of certain ailments, the introduction of new medications and rising prices for treatments. Robert Epstein, Medco's chief medical officer, said that 30% of the spending increase could be attributed to a rise in drug prices (Wall Street Journal, 9/19). Steven Findlay, director of research for the National Institute for Health Care Management, said, "From a financial point, we ought to be concerned. We have a potential for overuse of expensive brand-name medications." But Richard Gorman, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on drugs, said the increased spending on children's drugs is "generally a good thing." He added, "Kids are taking drugs that are newly available for diseases we've been trying to treat for a long time" (USA Today, 9/19). But he said, "The bad news is that with the use of any new drug, there may be overenthusiasm for writing prescriptions. This flashes a yellow light -- if use is rising, we have to ask whether it is appropriate. Unfortunately, this report doesn't address the question of overuse" (Silverman, Newark Star-Ledger, 9/19).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.