More kids and teenagers in the US are using prescription drugs for chronic conditions than ever before. According to the Wall Street Journal, around a quarter are taking some kind of chronic medication.
Some of those prescriptions are for things we hear a lot about like ADHD in children and asthma. Others are for conditions I at least typically associate with adults like hypertension, high cholesterol, and sleep. Why is there this increase?
Some of it has to do with better early detection of chronic conditions, some of it has to do with the health problems associated with the obesity epidemic, and some of it has to with greater awareness of medication as an option.
According to Danny Benjamin, a Duke University pediatrics professor, the problem is studies of the safety and dosage for those medications were all done in adults. That means we don’t know what the potential side effects these drugs can have in kids or the appropriate doses in children.
If a drug has been on the market for a long time, drug companies have “little incentive” to go back and test it on kids, especially if the drug is no longer under a patent. The Wall Street Journal story reports:
Still, a growing number of studies have been done under a Food and Drug Administration program that rewards drug companies for testing medications in children. In more than a third of these studies, there have been surprising side effects, or results that suggested a smaller or larger dose was needed than had been expected, Dr. Benjamin says. Those findings underscore that children’s reactions to medicines can be very different than those of adults. Long-term effects of drugs in kids are almost never known, since pediatric studies, like those in adults, tend to be relatively short.
Even with all the unknowns, though, according the Journal, the number of high blood pressure medication prescriptions for people under 19 “could hit 5.5 million this year.”
Before turning to prescription drugs, Dr. Benjamin recommends that parents do as much research as they possibly can into the drug.
For conditions like hypertension, if the child is also overweight, doctors might recommend changes in diet and exercise routines before turning to blood pressure mediation.
Also, once the decision is made about using a drug, parents still need to keep a close watch on side effects. And when it comes to managing ADHD symptoms and asthma symptoms medications have to be adjusted as a child develops. The bottom line with medication seems to be parents have to do the research and keep eyes wide open once kids start them.
How would you decide about giving your kids medication for a chronic condition?