More Than A Quarter Of U.S. Children Are On Prescription Drugs

ritalinHigh blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, trouble sleeping, depression, hyperactivity: it’s hard being a kid. Over a quarter of our country’s children are now on long-term prescription drug regimens, and the percentage will only continue to increase. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Gage Martindale, who is 8 years old, has been taking a blood-pressure drug since he was a toddler. “I want to be healthy, and I don’t want things in my heart to go wrong,” he says.

And, of course, his mom is always there to check Gage’s blood pressure regularly with a home monitor, and to make sure the second-grader doesn’t skip a dose of his once-a-day enalapril.

These days, the medicine cabinet is truly a family affair. More than a quarter of U.S. kids and teens are taking a medication on a chronic basis, according to Medco Health Solutions Inc., the biggest U.S. pharmacy-benefit manager with around 65 million members. Nearly 7% are on two or more such drugs, based on the company’s database figures for 2009.

Doctors and parents warn that prescribing medications to children can be problematic. There is limited research available about many drugs’ effects in kids. And health-care providers and families need to be vigilant to assess the medicines’ impact, both intended and not. Although the effects of some medications, like cholesterol-lowering statins, have been extensively researched in adults, the consequences of using such drugs for the bulk of a patient’s lifespan are little understood.

Many medications kids take on a regular basis are well known, including treatments for asthma and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

But children and teens are also taking a wide variety of other medications once considered only to be for adults, from statins to diabetes pills and sleep drugs, according to figures provided to The Wall Street Journal by IMS Health, a research firm. Prescriptions for antihypertensives in people age 19 and younger could hit 5.5 million this year if the trend though September continues, according to IMS. That would be up 17% from 2007, the earliest year available.

Researchers attribute the wide usage in part to doctors and parents becoming more aware of drugs as an option for kids. Unhealthy diets and lack of exercise among children, which lead to too much weight gain and obesity, also fuel the use of some treatments, such as those for hypertension. And some conditions are likely caught and treated earlier as screening and diagnosis efforts improve.

Gage, who isn’t overweight, has been on hypertension drugs since he had surgery to fix a heart defect as a toddler, says his mother, Stefanie Martindale, a Conway, Ark., marketing-company manager.

Most medications that could be prescribed to children on a chronic basis haven’t been tested specifically in kids, says Danny Benjamin, a Duke University pediatrics professor. And older drugs rarely get examined, since pharmaceutical firms have little incentive to test medicines once they are no longer under patent protection.

Still, a growing number of studies have been done under a Food and Drug Administration program that rewards drug companies for testing medications in children. In more than a third of these studies, there have been surprising side effects, or results that suggested a smaller or larger dose was needed than had been expected, Dr. Benjamin says. Those findings underscore that children’s reactions to medicines can be very different than those of adults. Long-term effects of drugs in kids are almost never known, since pediatric studies, like those in adults, tend to be relatively short.

“We know we’re making errors in dosing and safety,” says Dr. Benjamin, who is leading a new National Institutes of Health initiative to study drugs in children. He suggests that parents should do as much research as they can to understand the evidence for the medicine, confirm the diagnosis, and identify side effects.

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  • Anonymous

    Of course the problem is the kids.

    It could never be the Wild-West speculators and pollutors of corporate America shitting up the biological and cultural lanscape.

    Captains of industry are our society’s true heros. Right?

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Of course the problem is the kids.

    It could never be the Wild-West speculators and pollutors of corporate America shitting up the biological and cultural lanscape.

    Captains of industry are our society’s true heros. Right?

  • StZed

    Gabor Mate on DemocracyNow talked about this indepth.
    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/12/24/dr_gabor_mat_on_the_stress

    Mal-Adjusted is just a word meaning non conformist- and anti psychotic drugs in children are no doubt a form of social control. Why would you give a kid whom has ADHD some hardcore drug?! makes no sense and no parent with a concious should ever do it.

  • StZed

    Gabor Mate on DemocracyNow talked about this indepth.
    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/12/24/dr_gabor_mat_on_the_stress

    Mal-Adjusted is just a word meaning non conformist- and anti psychotic drugs in children are no doubt a form of social control. Why would you give a kid whom has ADHD some hardcore drug?! makes no sense and no parent with a concious should ever do it.

  • WhiteRose

    There should be a license to be a parent….

  • WhiteRose

    There should be a license to be a parent….

    • Jordan

      If it were that easy, that would be great. Fact is, millions of us are diagnosed will BS psychiatric illnesses, such as depression and put on medication, as if it’s some sort of cure. No time is taken by these “professionals” to tackle the real issue, but it isn’t just the professionals fault either. The public is grossly uninformed about the human brain, emotion, and behavior. Ok, the best way I can explain what I mean is using myself as an example: At 13 or 14, I became greatly depressed and began drinking and using any kind of drug I could get my hands on. It had nothing to do with my parents, if anything they did the best they could with the information they had. I was shuffled around to doctors appointments, per my request for help and even went into drug rehab voluntarily at 14. Fact is, I knew I wanted to escape from reality and there’s nothing anyone could have done to stop that. Nothing. I played and manipulated health care professionals, citing non-existent symptoms because I knew *enough* about DSM IV diagnostic criteria to get exactly the drugs I wanted. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADD, and generalized anxiety disorder. This gave me a whole cocktail of “fun drugs” at an early age, which I stock piled and abused or used as prescribed just to not have to deal with reality (which actually, at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anybody what the “root” of the problem was.) I began on Ativan, then graduated to Klonopin for the GAD and heavily abused the methylphenidate, which had a chemical reaction in my body similar to methamphetamine and cocaine, but better, longer lasting and of course, “safer,” right? I knew exactly how much I was taking, or I thought I did. I wrecked my car on my way to college one day. I was 17. I had began college at 16. I spun my car 3 times in mid-air. At 24, I still vividly remember gripping the steering wheel of my 1995 Monte Carlo, while in the air, praying to a God I claimed to never believe in, saying “Please just let it land right-side up.” It did. Of course, I brushed all of that off afterwards… the whole God thing… the whole experience being a miracle. It was shit to me. Not only that, but I spiraled down further because I couldn’t handle that “I almost died.” It ripped the driver’s side door open and bent it completely against the front of my car. I was completely exposed. The only thing that kept me in that car was my seatbelt. After that, I was put on other medications… you name it, I have been on it.

      I guess my moral is, it wasn’t the medication that necessarily caused that wreck. The medication, the wreck, the feelings and emotions I had were all part of a larger problem: myself. Our brain gives us warning signs or flags in the form of mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc. It’s a natural way of telling us we’ve had enough of whatever. Of course, being so young and impulsive anyway just made it worse. Of course, parents want to do whatever they can do to help their child who they see is suffering and it just so happens, here in this country, pharmaceuticals are not only available, but encouraged. If you’re a news junkie like I am, despite what propaganda channel you watch, pay attention to how much we are all slammed with ads from drug companies or commercials related in some shape or form to our health, our children’s health, or our grandparents health. It is messed up. Thing is though, as long as people have these symptoms to be diagnosed and wish to be diagnosed, this will continue, but as said before, it is really a warning sign of the state of our sick country. As long as our country is sick, so will the mass of its citizens.

  • Haystack

    What is wrong with our country when 3/4 of our kids are still unmedicated?

  • Haystack

    What is wrong with our country when 3/4 of our kids are still unmedicated?

  • Jordan

    If it were that easy, that would be great. Fact is, millions of us are diagnosed will BS psychiatric illnesses, such as depression and put on medication, as if it’s some sort of cure. No time is taken by these “professionals” to tackle the real issue, but it isn’t just the professionals fault either. The public is grossly uninformed about the human brain, emotion, and behavior. Ok, the best way I can explain what I mean is using myself as an example: At 13 or 14, I became greatly depressed and began drinking and using any kind of drug I could get my hands on. It had nothing to do with my parents, if anything they did the best they could with the information they had. I was shuffled around to doctors appointments, per my request for help and even went into drug rehab voluntarily at 14. Fact is, I knew I wanted to escape from reality and there’s nothing anyone could have done to stop that. Nothing. I played and manipulated health care professionals, citing non-existent symptoms because I knew *enough* about DSM IV diagnostic criteria to get exactly the drugs I wanted. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADD, and generalized anxiety disorder. This gave me a whole cocktail of “fun drugs” at an early age, which I stock piled and abused or used as prescribed just to not have to deal with reality (which actually, at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anybody what the “root” of the problem was.) I began on Ativan, then graduated to Klonopin for the GAD and heavily abused the methylphenidate, which had a chemical reaction in my body similar to methamphetamine and cocaine, but better, longer lasting and of course, “safer,” right? I knew exactly how much I was taking, or I thought I did. I wrecked my car on my way to college one day. I was 17. I had began college at 16. I spun my car 3 times in mid-air. At 24, I still vividly remember gripping the steering wheel of my 1995 Monte Carlo, while in the air, praying to a God I claimed to never believe in, saying “Please just let it land right-side up.” It did. Of course, I brushed all of that off afterwards… the whole God thing… the whole experience being a miracle. It was shit to me. Not only that, but I spiraled down further because I couldn’t handle that “I almost died.” It ripped the driver’s side door open and bent it completely against the front of my car. I was completely exposed. The only thing that kept me in that car was my seatbelt. After that, I was put on other medications… you name it, I have been on it.

    I guess my moral is, it wasn’t the medication that necessarily caused that wreck. The medication, the wreck, the feelings and emotions I had were all part of a larger problem: myself. Our brain gives us warning signs or flags in the form of mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc. It’s a natural way of telling us we’ve had enough of whatever. Of course, being so young and impulsive anyway just made it worse. Of course, parents want to do whatever they can do to help their child who they see is suffering and it just so happens, here in this country, pharmaceuticals are not only available, but encouraged. If you’re a news junkie like I am, despite what propaganda channel you watch, pay attention to how much we are all slammed with ads from drug companies or commercials related in some shape or form to our health, our children’s health, or our grandparents health. It is messed up. Thing is though, as long as people have these symptoms to be diagnosed and wish to be diagnosed, this will continue, but as said before, it is really a warning sign of the state of our sick country. As long as our country is sick, so will the mass of its citizens.

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