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U.S. or Europe: Whose Kids Are More Medicated?

American Children Three Times More Likely to Be Prescribed Antidepressants, Stimulants
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By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 25, 2008 -- American children are about three times more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medication as are children in Western Europe, according to a new study published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. Psychotropic drugs are drugs that affect the mind or mood.

A team of researchers, led by Julie Zito, PhD, associate professor in pharmacy and psychiatry from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, looked at health records in 2000 from the United States, the Netherlands, and Germany. The records were of nearly 600,000 insured children between birth and 19 years old.

In the United States, 6.7% of children in the study had been prescribed some kind of psychotropic medication, compared with 2.9% in the Netherlands and 2% in Germany. The most significant difference was in prescriptions for antidepressants and stimulants, which were more than three times as prevalent in the United States as in the European countries. Prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs were also more common in the United States (1.5-2.2 times greater in U.S.). Use of two or more psychotropic medications was two or three times more likely in American children than Dutch and German children.

Authors of the study credit a range of factors for the disparity, including different classification systems for diagnosis, different regulations, different drug reimbursement policies, and different cultural attitudes about using medication to treat behavior and emotional problems. Zito says in a written statement that the U.S. medical culture has a more "individualistic and activist therapeutic mentality." She also said that widespread direct-to-consumer drug advertising in the Untied States may be a factor.

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