According to a recent study from Medico Health Solutions Inc., a leading American pharmacy-benefit manager, more than a quarter of U.S. children and teenagers are taking prescription medication on a regular basis. Close to 7 percent are on more than one medication.
With there seemingly a perscription for every ache and pain, that number might not be all that surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less problematic. Although we get a laundry list of side effects at the end of every prescription-drug commercial, there still isn’t much information for the effects of such drugs on children.
Asthma and ADHD treatments are well known, but, according to The Wall Street Journal, a bevy of new drugs are being given to children:
Children and teens are also taking a wide variety of other medications once considered only to be for adults, from statins to diabetes pills and sleep drugs, according to figures provided to The Wall Street Journal by IMS Health, a research firm. Prescriptions for antihypertensives in people age 19 and younger could hit 5.5 million this year if the trend though September continues, according to IMS. That would be up 17 percent from 2007, the earliest year available.
However, these drugs don’t necessarily get tested properly:
Most medications that could be prescribed to children on a chronic basis haven’t been tested specifically in kids, says Danny Benjamin, a Duke University pediatrics professor. And older drugs rarely get examined, since pharmaceutical firms have little incentive to test medicines once they are no longer under patent protection.
The Food and Drug Administration has created a program that rewards drug companies for testing their medications in children. According to Benjamin, in one-third of these studies there have been unexpected side effects or results suggesting that a lower dosage amount should be used.
Benjamin warns parents that mistakes are still being made with children’s prescriptions:
“We know we’re making errors in dosing and safety,” says Dr. Benjamin, who is leading a new National Institutes of Health initiative to study drugs in children. He suggests that parents should do as much research as they can to understand the evidence for the medicine, confirm the diagnosis, and identify side effects. Among the places to check: drug labels and other resources on the FDA’s website, published research at www.pubmed.gov, and clinical guidelines from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics.