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Prescription Drug Use Rising Among Kids

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April 4, 2002 -- More children and teens are now using drugs than just five years ago, but in this case they've got their doctor's permission. A new study shows the number of young people using stimulants and antidepressants to treat depression and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) has grown dramatically in recent years.

Researchers found use of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants among young people, known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), rose by 62% between 1995 and 1999. At the same time, the number of prescriptions for stimulants used to treat ADHD, such as Ritalin and Adderall, increased by 26%.

Among children under 20 years, the number of those who were using both stimulants and SSRIs almost doubled during that time period.

However, the proportion of Ritalin users decreased while the number of Adderall users increased. Ritalin is one of the most popular stimulants, but it must be taken several times a day, which can make it difficult for children to comply. Adderall is a once-a-day stimulant that has recently been shown to be comparable to Ritalin but is less expensive.

The study is published in the March-April 2002 issue of Ambulatory Pediatrics.

The report found that child and adolescent use of these prescription drugs varied by geographic region and by who was writing the prescription. For example, a child's first prescription for a stimulant came from a pediatrician 50% of the time and from a family practitioner only 20% of the time. The first prescription for an antidepressant SSRI was most likely to come from a psychiatrist, although the percentage decreased from 56% to 44% during the study.

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