once intended only for adults are being prescribed to children
at an alarming rate. The problem is that the potential dangers
of allowing children to take many drugs are uncertain: Most
of the research on these medications has only been performed
thoroughly on adults. Psychiatric drugs, such as the stimulants
Ritalin and Dexedrine, are now being prescribed for behavioral
or emotional problems in children.
Researchers writing in the Archives of Pediatrics and
Adolescent Medicine evaluated data on approximately 900,000
children under age 20 enrolled in one of three health-care
systems: a Midwestern or mid-Atlantic Medicaid program, or
an HMO organization in the northwestern U.S. Data were analyzed
for each year from 1987 through 1996, focusing on psychiatric
Total use of mood-altering medications by children increased
by 2-3 times (varying by health-care system) over the 10-year
period. Approximately 6% of youths younger than age 20 were
taking at least one of these drugs by 1996. Most of the increase
in drug prescriptions occurred in the last five years of the
study period. "Mood stabilizers" accounted for much of the
increase; for example, Ritalin accounted for 77-87% of all
stimulant use. Stimulants and antidepressants ranked first
and second across all three health-care systems, with the
most dramatic increases seen in amphetamine use - under the
HMO, 15 times more children were on these drugs in 1996, compared
to just 10 years earlier.
Are American children being overmedicated? According to this
study, utilization of psychiatric medications in youths nearly
reached adult usage levels over a single decade. These facts
may be depressing - but please don't start taking a drug without
consulting thoroughly with a health care professional first,
and investigate all the options before starting your child
on any medication.
Zito JM, Safer DJ, et al.
Psychotropic practice patterns for youth: A 10-year perspective.
Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 2003:157(1),
For more information on the potential dangers of drugs, visit