The Number of Children and Adolescents Taking Psychotropic Medications Continues to Rise

For the second year in a row there has been an increase in the number of children and adolescents being treated with psychotropic medications.  Mental health needs across both genders of American youth continues to be addressed in part with medication.  The study performed by Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) unfortunately doesn’t quantify the frequency treatment includes both medication and psychotherapy, but rather examines the increased prescriptions by age, gender and generic vs name brand in its examination of spending on psychiatric medications for youths.

Interestingly, there is a wide disparity between the average genders as to what age these young people are begging to be treated with psycho-pharmecuticals.  For boys, the significant increase was found between ages 4 and 8 years, while for girls, this increase is seen in preteen years, mostly ages 9 – 12 years old.  The relationship between the age group by gender is more easily explained when the specific kind of medications are identified. 

For boys, the majority of this increase is almost exclusively due to medications used to treat Attention Deficit – Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with two medications making up the majority of the increase in prescriptions for psychotropic medications for this group.  The two medications are the generic forms of Adderall (Amphetamine, Dextroamphetamine Mixed Salts) and methylphenidate drugs (such as generic forms of Concerta, Ritalin, Methylin, and Medate).  

Girls are half as likely to use those medications which is not surprising given that ADHD is twice as more frequent in male children than female children, the latter of which are more likely than males to present with inattentive features.  The increase in prescription psychotropic medications for girls is almost exclusively related to anti-depressant medications.  

Over these past 2 years there has also been an increase in Mental Health and/or Substance Abuse Treatment hospital admissions.  Although the rate of growth for these hospital admissions is equal amongst girls and boys, girls continue to significantly outnumber boys in these hospital admissions.  

With so much focus on “affordable health care,” analytics of such for the above issues are disproportionately low compared to other health related costs.  I would speculate that this focus on cost analytics of healthcare has been on more expensive forms of healthcare such as long term care including expensive surgical and diagnostic procedures as well as expensive treatment modalities that come with a long course of treatment, thus incurring huge expense.  

Hopefully the bigger picture will be considered sooner than later as untreated mental illness can lead to huge costs down the road.  More importantly, parents and families need to understand how new healthcare policies are going to impact both their children as well as their families.  

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