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Pediatric Prescriptions

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Our children are becoming addicted to drugs - the legal kind. Pediatric prescription rates are skyrocketing and medical doctors increasingly turn to an ever-expanding medicine chest to treat childhood conditions - many of which have little data to support prescription use in the pediatric population and/or have been treated effectively without drugs for years. Here's the ugly truth about pediatric prescriptions and what parents can do about it.

With an increase in available diagnostics and the number of medications available to treat every possible disease increasing exponentially, it shouldn't be any surprise that the number of prescriptions being written for both adults and children has risen dramatically over the past several years. In addition, poor lifestyle choices have led to growing childhood obesity, further complicated by type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. More unhealthy children means more opportunity for drugs to be prescribed in response.

In December 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported the latest findings by Medco Health Solutions Inc., which determined that roughly one in four children and 30 percent of adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 are taking a medication for a chronic condition in the United States. Nearly 7 percent of children are taking two or more such drugs, according to the company's research for 2009.

In the WSJ article, Dr. Robert Epstein, the chief medical officer at Medco, said that these results were "shocking" to the company. "While H1N1 caused a spike in antiviral use among children last year, the far more alarming trend since the beginning of the decade is the increasing use of medications taken by children on a regular basis and, in some cases, for conditions that we don't often associate with youth, such as type 2 diabetes."

From statins to sleeping pills, it's clear that many of the drugs once considered necessary for adults only are being prescribed to children as well. IMS Health, a research firm, provided The Wall Street Journal with figures that confirmed this fact.

Some believe this trend is just the result of doctors and parents becoming more aware of drugs as an option for kids, but the problem remains that many of these drugs have not been tested specifically for the pediatric population. Danny Benjamin, a Duke University pediatrics professor, is specifically concerned about the well-established drugs since the pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to test them.

"We know we're making errors in dosing and safety," said Benjamin, quoted in the The Wall Street Journal article, and has suggested parents themselves need to take the time to research any new medications suggested by their pediatrician. This can be done by reading labels, going to the FDA Web site (www.fda.gov), looking for published research at www.pubmed.gov and collecting clinical guidelines from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Obesity Factor?

It appears that the growing childhood obesity problem in the United States could be partially to blame for these alarming statistics. For instance, drugs used to lower cholesterol are taken by 10-19-year-olds at a rate 50 percent higher than a decade ago. The concern with this trend is that these drugs are associated with weight gain and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes; meaning that the cure for high cholesterol could actually exacerbate the problem.

Additionally, the researchers at Medco believe the obesity epidemic could be to blame for the greatest spike in prescriptions over the nine-year span considered in the report. There was a 147 percent increase in the number of children prescribed proton-pump inhibitors, which are treatments for heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

The report noted, "The increases in prescription drug use by children for chronic conditions could fuel significantly higher health care costs as those young patients enter adulthood." However, perhaps the bigger concern should be that many of these drugs have not been tested and no research exists to tell parents what can happen when they are taken regularly from childhood into adulthood.

Growing Concern

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 17:57