Study reports adolescent psychotropic drug use

By Rivkela Brodsky
April 1st, 2014

About six percent of teens use psychotropic drugs, mostly antidepressants and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder medications, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, released in December by the CDC, shows 6.3 percent of adolescents aged 12-19 saying they have taken any psychotropic medication within the last month, according to data collected using National Health and Nutrition  Examination Survey data from 2005-2010. The study shows 4.5 percent reporting taking one psychotropic medication, while 1.8 percent reporting taking two or more drugs.

Of that, the use of antidepressants and ADHD medication was highest, each at 3.2 percent. That was followed by antipsychotics (1 percent); anxiolytics, sedatives, and hypnotics (0.5 percent); and antimanics (0.2 percent).

Approximately 11 percent of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011, according to the CDC. About 8.2 percent of adolescents aged 12-17 years old have experienced major depressive episodes, according to 2011 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

“I would expect approximately half or so of adolescents that were diagnosed with major depressive episode might go on to get actual antidepressants … Not every adolescent that is diagnosed with major depressive episodes is going to necessarily pursue it with the doctor. If they do, they may or may not get prescribed medication. Sometimes, there are other avenues,” says Bruce Jonas, Ph.D., mental health epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC, who compiled the data.

Females were more likely to take antidepressants (4.5 percent compared to 2 percent males) whereas males were more likely to take ADHD medication (4.2 percent compared to 2.2 percent for females).

The study also showed psychotropic drug use was higher among non-Hispanic white (8.2 percent) adolescents than non-Hispanic black (3.1 percent) and Mexican-American (2.9 percent) adolescents.

“[The study] gives some really interesting information about differences between males and females and differences between the three race ethnicities,” he says.

About one-half of U.S. adolescents using psychotropic drugs in the past month had seen a mental health professional in the past year (53.3 percent), according to the study.

“In my opinion what it really means is these numbers give a clear and balanced approached to understanding where prevalence is with psychotropic medication,” says Jonas. “They are numbers that are not particularly high, but they are not a rarity.”

Previous other studies outside the CDC have reported higher use among teens, according to the study. Jonas says this new information has a large sample size and gives recent information.

“One of the advantages of this report is it gives information, a representation of the entire United States population, in this case the entire United States adolescent population whereas past studies to look as this have been hospital populations or high risk populations not necessarily national in scope,” says Jonas.

Previous CDC information showed a similar rate of use among teens during 1999-2004 to the current data. However, data show a big jump in use from 1998-1994 to 1999-2004.

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