According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), more anti-psychotic drugs are being prescribed to poorer, Medicaid-eligible children than ever before and the number of underprivileged children who are taking these drugs has tripled between 1999 and 2008.
A recent story in The Wall Street Journal points out that the HHS has found that the drug Abilify, which is one of the newest class of anti-psychotic drugs and also the number one drug used in the U.S., is being prescribed to children from poorer families in disproportionate numbers.
Apparently children who are on Medicaid are four times more likely to be prescribed anti-psychotic drugs than children who are privately insured, according to Stephen Crystal, a health professor at Rutgers University. He added that the drugs are prescribed to 1.4 percent of Medicaid-eligible children and 12.4 percent of foster children.
A Chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Dr. Stephen Cha, said that doctors should consider using other options before prescribing anti-psychotic drugs for children who are misbehaving.
Cha went on to say that doctors should consider treating the children with therapy rather than drugs and the government should want to reduce “the unnecessarily high utilization of anti-psychotics.”
However, Dr. Fernando Siles in Dallas, Texas said that he prefers to give medication to children who have serious behavioral problems because it is better than having that child kicked out of another foster home, which could make the child’s behavioral problems worse.
The problem seems to be that foster children often suffer some form of abuse in their foster homes and even if they get placed into a loving home, the effects of their earlier mistreatment can stay with them and can damage their emotional development.
Some children, especially those suffering from Reactive Attachment Disorder, can continue to show violent behavior even after moving into a loving home.
However, due to the vast number of children who are prescribed anti-psychotic drugs, some believe that there may other reasons for the excessive use of psychiatric drugs. Some argue that doctors often just prescribe medication without searching for other alternatives to help the child.
According to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson, the problem is not isolated to children, but applies to nursing homes as well and the U.S. is not the only country with this problem.
Levinson found that 22 percent of claims for these drugs through Medicare violated the current standard for unnecessary drug use in nursing homes. In Canada, the number of children who are prescribed anti-psychotic drugs has almost quadrupled.
It appears that we may have become a medication nation.