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Psychiatric Drug Use Among Preschoolers Leveling Off, Study Shows

Sep 30, 2013 04:11 PM EDT
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Doctors are slower to prescribe medication for children when it comes to treating mental health disorders, a new study shows.

The national study of 43,000 individuals between 2-5 years old reveals that the use of psychotropic prescriptions peaked in 2002-2005 before leveling off between 2006-2009.

"The likelihood of receiving a behavioral diagnosis increased in 2006 to 2009, but this was not accompanied by an increased propensity toward psychotropic prescription," Dr. Tanya Froehlich, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's and the study's senior author, said in a statement. "In fact, the likelihood of psychotropic use in 2006-2009 was half that of the 1994-1997 period among those with a behavioral diagnosis."

In all, psychotropic usage decreased from 43 percent of those diagnosed with behavioral issues in 1994-1997 to 29 percent in 2006-2009.

A likely reason for this decrease, the researchers say, is the rise of warnings in the mid 2000s regarding psychotropic medication. In 2004, the FDA alerted doctors that antidepressants could increase suicidal thoughts and behavior in children. This was followed a year later by a public health advisory regarding the potential for cardiovascular risks involving amphetamines.

However, not all demographics fell in line with the overall trend: the researchers discovered increased use of psychotropic drugs among boys, white children and those without private health insurance.

More research is needed going forward in order to determine why this is and what long term effects may be tied ot to the use of psychotropic medication, the scientists said.

"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 said. "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."

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