One in Four Youth Taking Medicines for a Chronic Condition

These days, the medicine cabinet is truly a family affair. More than a quarter of U.S. kids and teens are taking a medication on a chronic basis, according to Medco Health Solutions Inc. Nearly 7% are on two or more such drugs, based on the company’s database figures for 2009. The growth in prescription drug use among children was nearly four times higher than the rise seen in the overall population. A corresponding analysis of pediatric medication use found that in 2009, more than one in four insured children in the U.S. and nearly 30 percent of adolescents (10-19 year olds) took at least one prescription medication to treat a chronic condition; the most substantial increases were seen in the use of antipsychotic, diabetes and asthma drugs over the past nine years. Researchers attribute the wide usage in part to doctors and parents becoming more aware of drugs as an option for kids. Unhealthy diets and lack of exercise among children, which lead to too much weight gain and obesity, also fuel the use of some treatments, such as those for hypertension. And some conditions are likely caught and treated earlier as screening and diagnosis efforts improve. After a drug is prescribed, children must be closely monitored, doctors say. They may not recognize or communicate a possible side effect, or whether their symptoms are improving. They also don't always follow prescription instructions. Parents must therefore invest time and attention to monitoring their children’s medicine use. Parents should also not hesitate to contact the prescriber (physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant, for example) or pharmacist with any medicine-related questions.