your kids little addicts?
By Kim Painter, USA TODAY
As shocking health statistics
go, this one is an eye-popper: Prescription sleeping-pill
use is up 85% among older children and adolescents. The
recent study that includes this information also shows a
doubling of use among young adults.
we raising a generation of pill-dependent insomniacs
overscheduled kids so hyped up on caffeinated sodas, energy
drinks and Frappuccinos that they need drugs to fall asleep?
really. A closer look at the data, and some additional
information, suggests the actual number of kids getting
sleeping pills is tiny and the reasons complex.
study, from managed-care company Medco Health Solutions,
looked at prescription data for 2.4 million customers. Among
them were 554 kids ages 10 to 19 getting "hypnotic"
medications (drugs classified specifically as sleeping
pills) in 2000; four years later, 1,032 kids were getting
the drugs 0.3% of the 342,568 kids in the sample. That's 3
kids in 1,000. And the vast majority likely were teens, not
children, says Medco's chief medical officer Robert Epstein.
experts find any increase troubling because, they say, the
medications included in the study have not been tested on
children and teens, and, even if safe, are probably
inappropriate for most kids.
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sure why people are prescribing these medications. Sometimes
neurodevelopmental problems like autism have sleep problems
that are very severe and we sometimes prescribe medication
for them," says Thomas Anders, president of the American
Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and a researcher
in pediatric sleep disorders at the UC-Davis M.I.N.D.
Institute. However, Anders says, most specialists don't use
hypnotics in children not even the new ones now heavily
marketed to adults. Instead, they use other sedating drugs,
often older antidepressants with long pediatric track
never prescribe and shouldn't prescribe a sleep medication
with a child who only has insomnia," he says. That's because
insomnia in children as in adults is primarily a learned
behavior that can be unlearned, specialists say.
Behavior-changing techniques like enforcing a sleep schedule
and insisting kids fall asleep only in their beds work for
Owens, a sleep specialist at Hasbro Children's Hospital in
Providence, says she recommends that parents try a
behavior-changing plan even if they try medication, too. She
says newer medications should be studied to find better
options for the few children mostly with disabilities
who truly need them.
also suspects a lot of kids and teens getting pills aren't
chronic insomniacs at all, but instead are kids going on
overseas trips or facing other temporary sleep disruptions.
Some parents have long coped with extended plane trips by
slipping their children sedating antihistamines bought over
the counter, she says.
speaking with Anders and Owens, I asked Medco to look again
at their data. Sure enough, 61% of the prescriptions in 2004
were never refilled suggesting they were for one-time, not
chronic, use. And Medco found that 39% of kids of all ages
taking hypnotics also took some other behavioral drug, and
13% took at least two more. The most common were
antidepressants (31%), followed by ADHD drugs (12%) and
anti-psychotics (9%). Anti-psychotics are sometimes
prescribed for children with autism and bipolar disorder.
Antidepressants are used in a wide range of disorders,
including anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism.
Those profiles suggest that many kids getting the pills
for sound reasons or not have complex health problems, not
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