Use of psychiatric drugs in young kids leveling off

110916014933-preschool-on-meds-3-0916-story-topAccording to a new study, the use of psychotropic prescription medications to treat attention deficits, depression, anxiety and other mental disorders in very young children appears to be stabilizing.

A national study of preschoolers (two to five year old kids) shows a spike in psychotropic drug prescriptions from 2002 to 2005 and then evened out from 2006 to 2009.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Tanya Froehlich, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio stated, “I’m very excited that the use of these drugs in this age group seems to be stabilizing. 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.”

Data analysis of two national surveys


In order to get some insight into the use of psychotropic medication use, including stimulants among very young children, the researchers conducted a study.

Stimulants, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, or an anti-anxiety drugs are commonly prescribed by caregivers to counter ADHD, pervasive developmental disorders, disruptive behavior disorders, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and psychosis.

Previous studies have established growing number of young kids taking psychiatric drugs between 1991 and 2001 (two to three fold increase) though they (with a few exceptions) are not specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in children under age 6.

For the purpose of the study, researchers analyzed data from two national surveys from 1994 to 2009 involving about 43,500 kids’ visits to office-based physician practices and hospital-based outpatient clinics across the US.

Revelations of the study

The analysis revealed the fraction of med prescriptions fluctuated between one prescription for every 217 doctors’ visits in 1998 and one for every 54 visits in 2004.

It was learnt that overall doctors prescribed about 1.0 percent preschoolers psychotropic medication between 1994 and 1997 but the rate dropped to nearly about 0.8 percent between 1998 and 2001. However, psychiatric medication for young ones surged to a high of 1.5 percent through 2002 and 2005 and then came back to 1.0 percent between 2006 and 2009.

Experts observed that though more kids received a behavioral diagnosis between in 2006 to 2009 it was not tied to increased psychotropic prescription. On the contrary psychotropic use in 2006-2009 fell and stabilized.

Though the reasons for the fall in prescription rates is ambiguous, experts theorize it may be be due to an increased awareness that these psychiatric drugs often trigger side effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had also issued a “black box” warning in 2004 regarding suicidal risk.

The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study is published online in the journal Pediatrics.