Study Shows Antipsychotic Drug Prescriptions Increasing in Children

Oct 10, 2012

A new report from the University of Kentucky has documented the rate at which the state's poor and disabled children are more and more frequently being prescribed very powerful drugs to treat what is assumed to be attention-deficit, schizophrenia, bi-polar disease and depression. The results indicate that males are more likely than females to be assigned those drugs by physicians, and minority males even more than their white counterparts.

The study, conducted by the UK Center for Business and Economic Research, shows that the amount of anti-psychotic drugs distributed to children on Medicaid in Kentucky jumped 270 percent in the decade from 2000 to 2010. Minority children were prescribed those medications at three times the rate of white children.

Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the study also "found unexplained geographical differences in how minority children are treated for mental illnesses. For example, minority children in Bath County in Eastern Kentucky are taking anti-psychotic medications at a rate nearly 26 times higher than minority children in Christian County in Western Kentucky. Yet the report found little difference in white children in those two counties. The study also revealed wide geographical variances in prescriptions for drugs meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Poor children in Western Kentucky received much larger quantities of ADHD drugs than their counterparts in Eastern Kentucky. For example, Henderson County children take medications to treat ADHD at a rate 11 times higher than children in Leslie County."

Michael Childress, who authored the study, told Musgrave that the study does not endeavor to answer why there are variances in prescription patterns. "This report provides data that should cause people to ask questions and to seek out answers," Childress said. "Health providers and people in these communities need to look at this data and start asking questions about what some of this data shows." Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes called some of the report's findings "disturbing." "We're taking a hard look at behavioral health in children and youth in this state," Haynes said. "Clearly, we need to have some education and training with our providers about prescribing habits. These are powerful drugs."  Dr. Paul Glaser, a pediatrician and child and adult psychiatrist and associate professor at the University of Kentucky Medical School, had a different perspective. He said the increase may show that the state is finally treating child and adolescent mental illness.  (Read more)

To read the report, including county-by-county maps and regional-level tables, go here.

To read an issue brief on ADHD, go here.
To read an issue brief of anti-psychotics, go here.
To read an issue brief of analgesic narcotics, go here.