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Study finds increase in young people using multiple psychiatric drugs

  • 2 Min To Read
  • 2 months ago

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland has found that an increasing number of children and adolescents are being prescribed multiple psychiatric drugs to be taken simultaneously. The study, published in JAMA Open Network, analyzed prescribing patterns among Medicaid-enrolled patients aged 17 or younger from 2015 to 2020 in a single unnamed U.S. state. The researchers discovered a 9.5 percent increase in the prevalence of "polypharmacy," which refers to taking three or more different classes of psychiatric medications, including antidepressants, mood-stabilizing anticonvulsants, sedatives, and drugs for ADHD and anxiety.

While this study only examined data from one state, previous research using nationally weighted samples has also indicated a rise in polypharmacy among young people. For example, a recent paper utilizing data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey found that in 2015, 40.7 percent of individuals aged 2 to 24 in the United States who took medication for ADHD also took a second psychiatric drug, compared to 26 percent in 2006.

The latest data from the University of Maryland researchers revealed that the practice of polypharmacy continues to grow in at least one state, particularly among disabled youths or those in foster care. Mental health experts have acknowledged that psychotropic medications can be beneficial and that doctors have the discretion to prescribe what they believe is appropriate. However, concerns have been raised regarding the use of drugs that have not been approved for young people and the long-term impact of simultaneously using multiple psychotropic medications on brain development.

The study analyzed data from 126,972 individuals over the study period. In 2015, 4.2 percent of Medicaid enrollees under the age of 17 in Maryland had overlapping prescriptions of three or more different classes of psychiatric medications. By 2020, this figure had risen to 4.6 percent. For those in foster care, the prevalence of polypharmacy increased from 10.8 percent to 11.3 percent.

The findings of this study highlight the importance of monitoring the use of psychotropic combinations, especially among vulnerable populations such as youths enrolled in Medicaid who have disabilities or are in foster care. It is crucial to continue studying the safety and long-term effects of prescribing multiple psychiatric drugs to young people to ensure their well-being.

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