The overall number of stimulants and psychiatric drugs prescribed for young children is stabilizing, according to a study published September 30. While the overall use declined, the use of these drugs in boys, white children and those without private health insurance increased, report researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Doctors are cautioned to strictly follow clinical guidelines and consider other therapies before prescribing drugs for children said Dr. Tanya Froehlich, the study’s senior author.
"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," says Froehlich.
What are psychotropic drugs?
Psychotropic drugs are used to treat mental disorders, anxiety disorders and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH). These drugs are also referred to as psychiatric or psychotherapeutic drugs. This class of drugs includes antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and stimulants. Stimulant medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, are commonly prescribed to children with ADHD.
Researchers examined the use of these medications in children aged 2 to 5 years from 1994 to 2009. They found psychiatric medication usage at its highest from 2002 to 2005 before stabilizing from 2006 to 2009. Significantly, the number of children diagnosed with behavioral disorders increased during that same period, 2006 to 2009.
Warnings by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others in the mid to late 2000s are thought to be the cause of the leveling off. The warnings were about negative side effects of these medications including the risk of suicide. Researchers do not know why there was an increase in psychotropic drug use in boys, white children and those without private insurance and further study is needed.
Other treatments for ADHD in children
The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends behavioral therapies for the treatment of ADHD. These therapies include parental interventions, teacher training and therapeutic recreation programs. Changes in lifestyle such as exercising and better sleep practices are also recommended.
The study, “National Trends in Psychotropic Medication Use in Young Children: 1994–2009” appears in the journal Pediatrics.