Spending on stimulants and other psychiatric drugs to treat young people with conditions ranging from hyperactivity to depression is increasing strongly, a new U.S. study issued on Monday showed.
There was a 77 percent increase in spending on behavioral medications between 2000 and 2003 in a group of children studied by pharmacy benefits manager Medco Health Solutions.
Medco, which helps companies and other groups provide drug coverage, reviewed prescription information for 300,000 U.S. youths aged 19 or younger to compile its report.
For the study group, spending on behavioral medications rose to $6.4 million in 2003 from $3.6 million in 2000.
The use of psychiatric medication in children is a controversial but growing trend.
While some advocates say the increase results from better access to health care and more diagnoses, critics say children and teens are being overmedicated in a society too reliant on a quick fix.
About 5 percent of children in Medco’s study took one or more behavioral drugs, Medco Chief Medical Officer Robert Epstein said.
While it was good for children to seek treatment, “you always have to wonder, does every child need to be treated with a prescription medication,” Epstein said in an interview.
Money spent on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medicine saw the biggest increase over the three years, especially among very young children.
While hyperactivity drug spending for all children and teen-agers rose 183 percent, it nearly quadrupled, rising 369 percent, in those 4 and younger, the Medco study said.
Most ADHD drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in patients 6 or older. A few are approved for those 3 and older.
More expensive new treatments and increased use are driving up costs, Epstein added. “It was a mixture of both,” he said.
The Medco study also found 142 percent more was spent since 2000 to treat autism and conduct disorders.
Antidepressant spending also grew but not as much, up 25 percent. Epstein said new generic versions of popular antidepressants like Eli Lilly’s Prozac helped lower costs.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD