Study: Prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs to state’s poor kids increase 270% in 10 years; data also show painkiller patterns

By Amy Wilson and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

A new report from the University of Kentucky has documented the rate at which the state’s poor and disabled children are more and more frequently being prescribed very powerful drugs to treat what is assumed to be attention-deficit, schizophrenia, bi-polar disease and depression. The results indicate that males are more likely than females to be assigned those drugs by physicians, and minority males even more than their white counterparts. The study, conducted by the UK College of Communication and Information and Center for Business and Economic Research, shows that the amount of anti-psychotic drugs distributed to children on Medicaid in Kentucky jumped 270 percent in the decade from 2000 to 2010. Minority children were prescribed those medications at three times the rate of white children.

Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the study also “found unexplained geographical differences in how minority children are treated for mental illnesses. For example, minority children in Bath County in Eastern Kentucky are taking anti-psychotic medications at a rate nearly 26 times higher than minority children in Christian County in Western Kentucky. Yet the report found little difference in white children in those two counties.

The study also revealed wide geographical variances in prescriptions for drugs meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Poor children in Western Kentucky received much larger quantities of ADHD drugs than their counterparts in Eastern Kentucky. For example, Henderson County children take medications to treat ADHD at a rate 11 times higher than children in Leslie County.”

Researcher Michael Childress looked at patterns for all drugs, and found a strong correlation between high use of painkillers and a high percentage of people who say they are in fair or poor health. He used that correlation to figure what level of painkiller use should be expected, and created a county-by-county map showing where the use is higher than expectation:

Childress told Musgrave that the study didn’t try to answer why there are variances in prescription patterns. “This report provides data that should cause people to ask questions and to seek out answers,” he said. “Health providers and people in these communities need to look at this data and start asking questions about what some of this data shows.”

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes called some of the report’s findings “disturbing.”

“We’re taking a hard look at behavioral health in children and youth in this state,” Haynes said. “Clearly, we need to have some education and training with our providers about prescribing habits. These are powerful drugs.”

Dr. Paul Glaser, a pediatrician and child and adult psychiatrist and associate professor at the UK College of Medicine, had a different perspective. He said the increase in antipsychotic drugs may show that the state is finally treating child and adolescent mental illness.  (Read more)

To read the report, including county-by-county maps and drug-by-drug county tables, go here. To read an issue brief on ADHD, go here. To read an issue brief of anti-psychotics, go here. To read an issue brief of analgesic narcotics, go here.

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