Trends in the prescribing of psychotropic medications to preschoolers

Julie Magno Zito, Daniel J. Safer, Susan DosReis, James F. Gardner, Myde Boles, Frances Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

727 Scopus citations


Context: Recent reports on the use of psychotropic medications for preschool-aged children with behavioral and emotional disorders warrant further examination of trends in the type and extent of drug therapy and sociodemographic correlates. Objectives: To determine the prevalence of psychotropic medication use in preschool-aged youths and to show utilization trends across a 5-year span. Design: Ambulatory care prescription records from 2 state Medicaid programs and a salaried group-model health maintenance organization (HMO) were used to perform a population-based analysis of three 1-year cross-sectional data sets (for the years 1991, 1993, and 1995). Setting and Participants: From 1991 to 1995, the number of enrollees aged 2 through 4 years in a Midwestern state Medicaid (MWM) program ranged from 146 369 to 158 060; in a mid-Atlantic state Medicaid (MAM) program, from 34 842 to 54 237; and in an HMO setting in the Northwest, from 19 107 to 19 322. Main Outcome Measures: Total, age-specific, and gender-specific utilization prevalences per 1000 enrollees for 3 major psychotropic drug classes (stimulants, antidepressants, and neuroleptics) and 2 leading psychotherapeutic medications (methylphenidate and clonidine); rates of increased use of these drugs from 1991 to 1995, compared across the 3 sites. Results: The 1995 rank order of total prevalence in preschoolers (per 1000) in the MWM program was: stimulants (12.3),90% of which represents methylphenidate (11.1); antidepressants (3.2); clonidine (2.3); and neuroleptics (0.9). A similar rank order was observed for the MAM program, while the HMO had nearly 3 times more clonidine than antidepressant use (1.9 vs 0.7). Sizable increases in prevalence were noted between 1991 and 1995 across the 3 sites for clonidine, stimulants, and antidepressants, while neurolepticuse increased only slightly. Methylphenidate prevalence in 2- through 4-year-olds increased at each site: MWM, 3-fold; MAM, 1.7-fold; and HMO, 3.1-fold. Decreases occurred in the relative proportions of previously dominant psychotherapeutic agents in the stimulant and antidepressant classes, while increases occurred for newel less established agents. Conclusions: In all 3 data sources, psychotropic medications prescribed for pre-schoolers increased dramatically between 1991 and 1995. The predominance of medications with off-label (unlabeled) indications calls for prospective community-based, multidimensional outcome studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1025-1030
Number of pages6
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 23 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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