Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Children's Health

Font Size

More Preschoolers Receiving Psychiatric Medications

WebMD Health News

Feb. 22, 2000 (Minneapolis) -- The number of preschool children receiving Ritalin, Prozac, and other drugs for psychiatric disorders increased dramatically from 1991 to 1995, according to a study in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. These medications, called psychotropics, have not been approved for young children, and the potential for harmful effects on them is unknown, the authors write.

"Rapid expansion of medication use for a particular problem raises questions about appropriateness, effectiveness, and long-term safety," researcher Julie Magno Zito, PhD, tells WebMD.

Zito and her colleagues reviewed outpatient prescription records from two state Medicaid programs and one health maintenance organization (HMO). The investigators analyzed these groups for the years 1991, 1993, and 1995.

The researcher found that Ritalin (methylphenidate) was by far the most prescribed psychotropic medication. Ritalin prescriptions among children 2 to 4 years old increased substantially in all three study groups and tripled in two of them.

Antidepressants, such as Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline), were the second most common type of psychotropic medication prescribed to preschoolers. During the study period, antidepressant prescriptions doubled in both of the Medicaid groups, and increased in the HMO group as well.

Several factors may have contributed to the trend, says Zito, an associate professor of pharmacy and medicine at the University of Maryland. These include a change in the criteria for diagnosing ADHD, an bigger role for schools in assessing children's emotional and behavioral needs, day care environments that may interfere with children's normal behavioral development, and a more favorable public attitude toward medical treatment of behavioral problems.

"This reported increased use of psychotropic drugs in very young children raises important questions," Joseph T. Coyle, MD, writes in an editorial accompanying the study. He suggests that "behaviorally disturbed children are now increasingly subjected to quick and inexpensive pharmacologic fixes" rather than multidisciplinary approaches that include pediatric, psychiatric, behavioral, and family care. These practices, he says, "suggest a growing crisis in mental health services to children and demand more thorough investigation."

Coyle, who is chair of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, tells WebMD that if a pediatrician, nurse, or teacher tells a parent that a child needs a psychiatric medication, the child should be assessed by a physician trained in diagnosing emotional or behavioral conditions. A prescription, he says, should not always be the first option.

Today on WebMD

child with red rash on cheeks
What’s that rash?
plate of fruit and veggies
How healthy is your child’s diet?
smiling baby
Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
Middle school band practice
Understanding your child’s changing body.

worried kid
jennifer aniston
Measles virus
sick child

Child with adhd
rl with friends
Syringes and graph illustration