- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — As more children pop pills for attention deficit and other behavior disorders, new figures show spending on those drugs has for the first time edged out the cost of antibiotics and asthma medications for youths.

A 49 percent rise in the use of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder drugs by children under 5 in the last three years contributed to a 23 percent increase in usage for all children, according to an annual analysis of drug use trends by Medco Health Solutions Inc.

“Behavioral medicines have eclipsed the other categories this year,” said Dr. Robert Epstein, Medco’s chief medical officer. “It certainly reflects the concern of parents that their children do as well as they can.”

Antibiotics still top the list of the most commonly used children’s drugs, but parents are paying more for behavioral drugs, such as stimulants or antidepressants, according to the analysis of drug use among 300,000 children under 19.

Medco, the nation’s largest prescription benefit manager, was to release the data culled from its customers’ usage today.

The most startling change was a 369 percent increase in spending on attention deficit drugs for children under 5. That’s in part because of the popularity of newer, long-acting medicines under patent, compared with twice-a-day Ritalin and generic versions available for years.

But the use of other behavioral drugs also jumped in the last three years. Antidepressant use rose 21 percent and drugs for autism and other conduct disorders jumped 71 percent, compared to a 4.3 percent rise in antibiotics.

Dr. Epstein said 17 percent of total drug spending last year for the group was for behavioral medicines, compared with 16 percent each for antibiotics and asthma drugs, 11 percent for skin conditions and 6 percent for allergy medicines.

Use of such behavior medicines has caused public furor, with some doctors and medical authorities questioning whether parents and school officials are too eager to medicate disruptive children.

Overall, 5.3 percent of children took some type of behavioral medicine in 2003.

Use of asthma medicines increased 15 percent from 2000 to 2003 and use of medicines for gastrointestinal problems jumped 28 percent, mainly due to new drugs for the stomach gas that gives babies colic.

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