Prescriptions of mind-altering drugs for teens rise
WASHINGTON TIMES | January 4, 2006
By Jennifer Harper
Teenagers are taking more mind-altering drugs -- but under doctor's orders.
Drug prescriptions meant to counter depression, anxiety and mood or attention disorders in teens increased by 250 percent between 1994 and 2001, according to a Brandeis University study released yesterday.
"There is an alarming increase in prescribing these drugs to teens," said lead author Cindy Parks Thomas, who tracks prescription drug trends for the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at the university.
Teenage boys are particularly targeted: one out of every 10 who visits the doctor leaves with a prescription to treat a mental condition. The study also found that overall, up to a quarter of the office visits which yielded a prescription "did not have an associated mental health diagnosis," according to Ms. Thomas.
Ready prescriptions are on the rise "despite the fact that few psychotropic drugs, typically prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and other mood disorders, are approved for use in children under 18," the study stated.
"The dramatic increase in prescribing of psychotropic medications is of considerable concern ... because these medications are not without risks," Ms. Thomas observed.
The research was based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center of Health Statistics, which analyzed the scope of physician office visits nationwide. The study was published in Psychiatric Services, a medical journal.
The CDC released similar findings in 2004. The number of children younger than 18 taking three or more prescription drugs increased by more than 50 percent between 1994 and 2000 -- to almost 4 percent of the age group.
Specifically, use of antidepressant drugs among children between ages 5 and 17 increased from just over 2 percent in 1994 to almost six percent by 2002. Use of stimulants also rose, from about 5 percent a decade ago to almost 10 percent by 2002.
In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported last year that while teen use of cigarettes and illicit drugs are down, the abuse of prescription sedatives or painkillers is up significantly.
The prevalence of prescription drugs among the young is troubling a cross section of parents, legislators and pundits, including Thomas Sowell, who noted in one editorial, "The motto used to be: 'Boys will be boys.' Today, the motto seems to be: 'Boys will be medicated,' " later adding that the old "three R's" have been redefined as "repression, re-education and Ritalin."
Meanwhile, the new Brandeis research specifically cited the impact of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration 1997 decision to relax limits on consumer advertising of prescription drugs. The study found that pharmaceutical companies increased spending on TV advertising alone by sixfold between 1996 and 2000, to a total of $1.5 billion.
The study also found a "greater acceptance among physicians and the public of psychotropic drugs." Other factors to account for greater use of the drugs included new medications with fewer side effects and more mental health screening, Ms. Thomas noted.
How troubled are American teens?
According to Dec. 29 figures from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2.2 million adolescents -- or 9 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 -- reported they had at least one "major depressive episode" in the last year.
Teenagers say their parents' lack of attention to "significant transition periods" drives them to drug abuse, according to Boston-based Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and the Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, which surveyed 1,968 teens in mid-December. Almost half said their parents overlooked key birthdays, puberty and other adolescent mileposts.
"In a culture largely devoid of formal rites of passage and too often unobservant of the few that exist, young people may make up their own," said SADD chairman Stephen Wallace. "Far too often they include drinking, drugging and other potentially destructive behaviors."
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