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Prescriptions for Mental Illness Declining for the Youth

Update Date: Sep 30, 2013 11:20 AM EDT

In recent years, politicians, programs and campaigns have been working hard to combat a relatively new type of drug abuse, prescription drug abuse. Even though prescription drug abuse is not new, the increase in misusing these drugs particularly by high school and college students have brought more awareness to this growing problem. With more of America's youth being diagnosed with mental illnesses, people could only imagine how many more drugs are being prescribed today than ever before. However, in a new study, researchers are reporting that prescription drugs for mental illnesses have actually declined over the past years.

In this study, the researchers focused on prescription drugs for children between the ages of two and five. They examined the data from a nationally representative group of 43,000 children. From 2002 and 2005, drug prescriptions rose significantly. However, due to better guidelines that have changed how mental illnesses are diagnosed, the number of prescription drugs has leveled off from 2006 to 2009.

According to the researchers, in the mid-2000s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started to add very strict warnings on mental illness drugs, such as antidepressants. The researchers believe that these new labels are effective in getting doctors to avoid prescribing too many medications.

"Our findings underscore the need to ensure that doctors of very young children who are diagnosing ADHD, the most common diagnosis, and prescribing stimulants, the most common kind of psychotropic medications, are using the most up-to-date and stringent diagnostic criteria and clinical practice guidelines," the authors wrote according to TIME.

According to the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), doctors should try behavioral therapy first without medications. Medications should be used when the behavioral therapy is ineffective. Despite these guidelines, researchers have found that nearly one in five doctors who treat young children with mental illnesses will prescribe at least one medication with or without behavioral therapy depending on the situation. However, even though some specialists tend to prescribe medications, the numbers reveal a promising, declining trend.

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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