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Sep 30, 2013 12:58 PM EDT

Use of Psychotropic Drugs to Treat Mental Health Disorders in Preschool-Age Children Levels Off

The use of prescription psychotropic medication on preschool-aged children is beginning to level off, according to a press release.

Such prescription medication is often used to treat attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), mood behavioral conditions, anxiety and other mental disorders.

In a recent study from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), published in the journal Pediatrics, showed the use of psychotropic drugs in very young children has begun to stabilize. The use of such drugs among children aged two to five peaked from 2002-2005, but results showed it had leveled off from 2006-2009.

"The likelihood of receiving a behavioral diagnosis increased in 2006 to 2009, but this was not accompanied by an increased propensity toward psychotropic prescription," said lead author Tanya Froehlich, M.D., a pediatrician at CCHMC. "In fact, the likelihood of psychotropic use in 2006-2009 was half that of the 1994-1997 period among those with a behavioral diagnosis."

The researchers also discovered the use of psychotropic drugs for young boys, white children and those whose families have private health insurance increased during the overall study period of 1994 to 2009.

From the beginning of that period to the end, the usage for children with one or more mental health disorder decreased. From 1994-1997 that figure was at 43 percent, but dropped to 29 percent in 2006-2009.

Different types of medications for the aforementioned conditions include antidepressants, antipsychotics, antianxiety agents, stimulants and mood stabilizers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved many of these drugs for children in the preschool age bracket. Still, use has increased steadily since 1991, only leveling off in the past five-plus years.

Researchers analyzed data from two previous national studies and collected data on a total of 43,000 young children in the U.S.

"Our findings underscore the need to ensure that doctors of very young children who are diagnosing ADHD, the most common diagnosis, and prescribing stimulants, the most common psychotropic medications, are using the most up-to-date and stringent diagnostic criteria and clinical practice guidelines," said Dr. Froehlich. "Furthermore, given the continued use of psychotropic medications in very young children and concerns regarding their effects on the developing brain, future studies on the long-term effects of psychotropic medication use in this age group are essential."

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