Psychotherapeutic medication prevalence in Medicaid-insured preschoolers

Julie M. Zito, Daniel J. Safer, Satish Valluri, James F. Gardner, James J. Korelitz, Donald R. Mattison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Objective: To update knowledge of the prevalence of the use of psychotherapeutic medications in preschoolers with Medicaid insurance as requested by the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act of 2002 (BPCA). Method: Prescription, enrollment, and outpatient visit data from 7 state Medicaid programs were used to identify 274,518 youths continuously enrolled in 2001 and aged 2 to 4 on January 1, 2001. Annual prevalence of use was defined as one or more dispensed prescriptions for a psychotherapeutic medication and adjusted for anticonvulsant and anxiolytic/sedative/hypnotic use according to ICD-9 diagnostic groupings. Prevalence ratios adjusted for age, race/ethnicity, and gender were estimated. Results: 2.30% (CI = 2.24, 2.36) of preschoolers received one or more dispensings for a psychotherapeutic medication in 2001, approximately doubling the usage of comparable youth from 2 other state Medicaid programs studied in 1995. Boys were 2.4 times more likely than girls to receive psychotherapeutic medication. Whites were 4 times more likely than Hispanics and twice as likely as Blacks to receive medication for psychiatric or behavioral conditions. Since the mid-1990s, usage increased, especially for atypical antipsychotics and antidepressants. The prominent use of anticonvulsants (78.8%) and anxiolytic/sedative/hypnotic drugs (91.4%) in those with no psychiatric diagnosis, but with other medical diagnoses, shows that much use therein reflects treatment for seizures, rather than mood stabilization, and for minor medical conditions, rather than psychiatric disorders. Conclusion: Preschool psychotherapeutic medication use increased across ages 2 to 4 for stimulants, antipsychotics, and antidepressants, reflecting use for psychiatric/behavioral disorders. However, the use of anxiolytic/sedative/ hypnotics and anticonvulsants was more stable across these years, suggesting medical usage. Additional research to assess the benefits and risks of psychotherapeutic drugs is needed, particularly when such usage is off-label for both psychiatric and nonpsychiatric conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-203
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of child and adolescent psychopharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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