Doctors are prescribing less medication to American children, but prescriptions for drugs to treat behavioral conditions like ADHD continue to rise, a new study reveals.
The best news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report is that fewer antibiotics are being prescribed to children.
Overuse of antibiotics is fueling antibiotic resistance, and the drugs are often prescribed for viral infections that they cannot treat any way.
Yet rates of prescriptions for amphetamines – non-addictive stimulants – to have continued on their upward trend, likely as a result of pressure from parents and schools, experts suggest.
Overall, 11 percent less medication was prescribed to people under the age of 19 between 1999 and 2014.
American doctors are prescribing 11 percent fewer drugs to children, but rates of prescriptions for ADHD medications continue to rise, likely due to pressure from parents and schools
But that big picture figure, based on data on 38,277 children, does not tell the complete story of children’s medication in the US.
Within that data, ‘some of these trends likely signal potential improvements in the care of children, others may suggest little progress has been made, and yet others are difficult to interpret with certainty,’ wrote Dr Gary Freed in an editorial accompanying the new study.
Dr Freed, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School cautioned that there are still conditions that are over-medicated, as well as some that are under-diagnosed and treated, like hypertension.
In recent years, alarm has been spreading over the development of antibiotic resistant activity.
Once bacteria is exposed to antibiotics, it can morph such that the treatment is no longer a good biological match for the pathogen, making it ‘resistant.’
This bacteria can spread from person to person, meaning that populations can become resistant to the treatments designed to treat common illnesses.
There are many different types of antibiotics – some that target very specific types of bacteria and others that wipe out a ‘broad spectrum’ of bugs – but the more they are prescribed, the better bacteria gets at beating them.
It is particularly importantly, then, for children to not be over-prescribed the drugs when they have their whole lives ahead of them to develop resistance.
WHAT IS ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?
Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs.
The World Health Organization has previously warned if nothing is done the world was headed for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.
It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate answers to the growing crisis.
Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics, or they are given out unnecessarily.
Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.
Figures estimate that superbugs will kill ten million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.
Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world.
Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.
In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.
In September, the World Health Organisation warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.
Without antibiotics, caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would also become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.
But when worried parents come to a doctor with a sick child, physicians are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
No one wants to turn away concerned parents and sniffling kids empty-handed, but the prescription for an antibiotic they hand over may in fact do more harm than good if the illness is actually a viral infection.
And most of them are: for example, more than 90 percent of sinus infections are caused by viruses, so antibiotics are useless against them any way.
So rates of prescriptions for these drugs being cut in half in recent years is good news for children and the world over but trends in psychiatric drugs are more worrisome.
Prescriptions for ADHD medications have risen by nearly 30 percent since 1999, according to the new report.
Particularly worrisome, wrote Dr Freed, was the increase in amphetamines prescribed to young children, between six and 11 years old.
‘Historically, clinicians have been hesitant to use such medications for children at the lower end of this age range because of the difficulties in diagnosing this condition at younger ages and concern about the effect of stimulants on growth and blood pressure,’ Dr Freed wrote.
‘However, clinicians are under increasing pressure from parents and schools to diagnose and treat patients with behavioral conduct disorders and ADHD.
‘Additional pressure may come from some parents with concerns regarding their child’s school performance, increasingly at younger ages and earlier grade levels.’
Dr Freed’s concern that these drugs could raise young children’s blood pressures is especially salient as the childhood obesity epidemic continues to plague young Americans.
As obesity raises rates of high blood pressure among children, prescriptions for hypertension drugs among children have been on the rise as well.
The new report revealed that prescriptions for these medications went from 0.2 percent in 1999 to 0.8 percent in 2014 – a 300 percent increase.
This, Dr Freed wrote, ‘may be an indication of improved care. However, the increase could also reflect a greater prevalence of hypertension from 1999-2014 as a result of increasing obesity in the adolescent age group.’