Bloomberg News

Teens Not Overtreated for Mental Illness, Study Suggests

December 03, 2012

About 14 percent of U.S. teenagers with mental disorders get medications for their conditions, according to a study that researchers said contradicts previous reports suggesting adolescents are overtreated with drugs.

Four million U.S. children and adolescents have a serious mental disorder affecting how they function, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, based in Arlington, Virginia. The findings published today in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine show that American teens aren’t getting more psychiatric medications than necessary despite previous reports suggesting the contrary, the authors said.

“It’s reassuring that the utilization seems to match the needs of these kids,” said Benedetto Vitiello, the study author and chief of the Child and Adolescent Treatment and Preventive Intervention Research Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. “This paper does not suggest that there is an excessive use. If anything, it may suggest at times medications are used fairly sparingly and other treatments are used instead of medications.”

Researchers in the NIH-sponsored study analyzed data from 10,123 kids ages 13 to 18 years who had participated in the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement from 2001 to 2004.

They found that among those diagnosed with a mental illness, 14.2 percent were treated with medication, including antidepressants, stimulants, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers.

ADHD Treatment

Twenty percent of kids ages 13 to 18 diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, were using stimulant medications such as Ritalin. About 14 percent of teenagers diagnosed with depression were using antidepressants, the study found.

The research also showed that 20 percent of teens with mood disorders, 19 percent of those with eating disorders, 19 percent of those with behavior disorders and 14 percent of those with substance abuse disorders were given drug therapies.

Stimulants, the most common type of drug to treat ADHD, include Shire Plc (SHP)’s Adderall XR, Johnson & Johnson’s Concerta and Novartis AG’s Ritalin.

Only 2.5 percent of those who weren’t diagnosed with a mental disorder were prescribed these medications and the majority of them had evidence of psychological distress, the authors said.

Additional studies are needed to look at more recent numbers to make sure teen use of these medicines hadn’t changed between now and when the survey was conducted, Vitiello said today in a telephone interview.

David Rubin, an attending physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in an accompanying editorial that adolescents in the Medicaid health insurance program may need to be watched as they may be prescribed more medications because investments in other treatment options are lacking.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at nostrow1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net


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