April 6, 2009 -- More children are being prescribed medications to treat chronic conditions that adults suffer from, a new study shows.
Researchers say the increase in prescription drug use is likely the result of increased awareness that these chronic conditions are present among children as well as a higher incidence of heart-related risk factors brought on by a childhood obesity epidemic. According to the latest statistics, close to 20% of children and adolescents are now overweight or obese.
Kids’ Prescription Drug Use Rising
Treatment guidelines recommend medications to treat chronic conditions (such as diabetes) in children if lifestyle and behavioral modifications do not work or if the child is in a high-risk group. But there is little information about prescription drug use among children and adolescents.
In their study, the researchers analyzed the prescription records of more than 5 million commercially insured children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 18 from November 2004 to June 2007. Specifically, they looked at drugs to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Overall, the number of children and adolescents who were prescribed medications to treat these chronic conditions rose from 3.3 per 1,000 youths to 3.8 per 1,000, a rise of 15.2%.
“As expected, the oldest ages had the highest prevalence [of medication use] overall, yet the greatest rate of increase during this period was realized by 6- to 11-year-old children, with increases of 18.7% and 17.3% for girls and boys, respectively,” writes researcher Joshua N. Liberman, PhD, of CVS Caremark in Hunt Valley, Md.
The rise in prescriptions was not due to more cholesterol-lowering medicines. When researchers looked at individual drug use, they found use of prescription drugs to treat abnormal cholesterol levels actually decreased during the study period. This finding was attributed to the ongoing controversy over statin use.
Based on their results, the researchers estimate that as of June 2007, more than 175,000 children and adolescents 6 to 18 were using prescription medications to treat high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, or diabetes. In comparison, an estimated 150,000 children and adolescents have diabetes, 1.1 million to 2.6 million have high blood pressure, and more than 7 million have abnormal cholesterol levels.
“While the potential for misuse of these medications remains, that does not appear to be happening at this time,” Stephen R. Daniels, MD, PhD, of the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, writes in an editorial that accompanies the study in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
Although Daniels says the drugs currently don’t appear to be overprescribed or misused among children, he says it will be important to monitor the appropriateness of use and ultimately reduction of these risk factors among children.