ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The 1990s saw a dramatic rise in the number of children and adolescents receiving Ritalin-type stimulant drugs and Prozac-type antidepressants among a population of children studied by researchers at the University of Michigan. The new study also documents the rise of a newer phenomenon: kids who are prescribed both kinds of drugs at the same time.
The trend toward giving two behavioral drugs to the same child raises questions, the authors say, about how physicians diagnose and treat children's mental disorders. Thirty percent of children in the study who were on the newer type of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, also took stimulants.
"New drugs nearly always experience a rise in prescriptions over the first few years of their lifespan, but the consistent increase in SSRI use and in dual prescriptions is especially surprising," says U-M pediatrician and lead author Jerry Rushton, M.D., MPH. "We need further information about whether this is due to new unrecognized mental disorders, substitution for other therapies, or overprescription."
SSRIs have only gained approval for select indications in children during the last two to three years, and little research has been done on the safety of medications in very young children and the safety of combining them with stimulants. But some physicians seem to be prescribing them nonetheless.
Rushton discussed data from the study of prescription claims among young Medicaid recipients in North Carolina today in his presentation to the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Though the data are limited to a single state's Medicaid population, they provide a unique preliminary indication of how quickly stimulant and antidepressant use rose among children from 1990 to 1998, and how many children are receiving both types of medication.