Kids Using Prescription Drugs More

From the September 19, 2002 issue of the online Intelihealth comes a story with the headline that highlights a serious trend, "Kids Using Prescription Drugs More." The story, originating from the New York Associated Press shows that according to a new study the use of prescription drugs is growing faster among children than it is among senior citizens and baby boomers, the two traditionally high drug usage consumer groups.

According to the survey by Medco Health Solutions, a Franklin, N.J.-based pharmacy benefits manager, spending on prescription drugs for those under 19 grew 28 percent last year. In that same time prescription drug spending for people between the ages of 35 and 49 rose 23 percent. For senior citizens over the age of 65, the study showed that the increase in spending rose 10 percent in that year. The study also found that children are spending 34 percent more time on medication than they were five years ago.Associated Press

The government agency, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, estimates that overall spending on prescription drugs rose 16.4 percent to $142 billion last year. The most prescribed drugs among children were for allergies, asthma and infections. However, prescriptions for Ritalin and other medicines for neurological and psychological disorders were also substantially increased. This area is causing great concern as some experts worry that such drugs may be over-prescribed for children. What really alarmed some doctors was that spending on prescription drugs to treat heartburn and other gastrointestinal disorders surged 660 percent over the last five years. Additionally, the survey also found that spending on antibiotics among children increased 42 percent, in spite of the fact that doctors say antibiotic resistance is a widespread problem.

MDs explain some of the increase as being related to the increase of certain aliments. According to Dr. Michael Blaiss, a pediatrician who specializes in children's ailments, about 7 percent of children have asthma and 25 percent have allergies, approximately double the incidence 25 years ago. However, the article carries no comments questioning why such an increase in certain diseases has occurred. Some experts speculate that medications and vaccinations themselves are to blame for the increase in these conditions.

Dr. Lawrence Diller, author of the book "Should I Medicate My Child?" worries that drugs such as Ritalin are over-prescribed. He also pointed out that there haven't been many studies of the effects of antidepressants on children. "The antidepressants are known to have sexual side effects. I wonder what the long-term effects of that is going to be on adolescents," Diller said.

The vast majority of prescription drugs are developed for adults, and drug makers are not mandated to test them on children. In 1997, Congress passed legislation that gave drug companies an additional six months of patent protection if they tested their drugs on children. That huge financial incentive has gotten the drug companies to conduct more tests, but experts say more studies are needed. This concept also creates moral questions over the ethical concerns of drug testing on children. Regardless of the moral issues of drug testing on children the fact still remains that children are being given an increasing amount of medications that were not researched for children. Dr. John Ring, who sits on the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Drugs, says that most of the prescriptions written for children are still written for drugs that haven't been approved for youngsters.