Changing patterns of drug prescriptions among youth

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Although total pediatric drug prescriptions fell by 9 percent between 2002 and 2010, there were a few key areas in which overall use climbed: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications and oral contraceptives among youth.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the latest study analyzed drug dispensation data from two commercial prescription and patient databases that covered about half of all U.S. retail prescriptions. Researchers from the FDA s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research found that, for those under the age of 18, the number of prescriptions dispensed in 2010 totaled 263 million: 9 percent lower than in 2002. However, during the same time period, ADHD drug scripts increased by 46 percent, and contraceptive prescriptions rose by 93 percent.

Interestingly, however, national surveys have not found more girls actually reporting use of oral methods of birth control. The jump in contraceptive scripts may instead be due to longer duration of existing use or an increase in the number of prescriptions for secondary indications, which may include treating acne or regulating menstrual cycles.

And while antibiotics were the most frequently dispensed drug type, accounting for about a quarter of all pediatric prescriptions during the study period, there was a significant drop 14 percent in their use between 2002 and 2010. As the authors suggest, the change may reflect the success of recent efforts to minimize inappropriate antibiotic use which ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross says is a good sign.

Though ADHD scripts were up, too, the increase was seen only among the newer class of such medications. According to Dr. Ross, more cases of ADHD nowadays may simply be due to greater awareness and diagnosis, as well as an inclination among many physicians to treat it more aggressively with drugs.