Poor Children Ditching Depression Drugs

Antidepressant treatments misused by children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Depression affects about one out of five children, and when it goes untreated there can be tragic consequences. Deepening and recurring depression, substance abuse, and even suicidal behavior can increase.

In Ohio, only one in five Medicaid-covered children who are in treatment for depression complete the recommended six-month medication plan to treat their depression. Half of them stop the antidepressant drugs within three months.

"Ensure that your kids complete antidepressant treatment."

Cynthia Fontanella, assistant professor of social work and psychiatry at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, found that certain children are at much higher risk of dropping their antidepressant treatment than others. Adolescents don't complete the course of drugs much more than younger children, and minority youths are also at higher risk, particularly African Americans.

The team analyzed Medicaid prescriptions of antidepressants to children in Ohio over a three year period, looking at 1,650 children between five and 17 years old who had been diagnosed with depression and prescribed at least one antidepressant.

Only half (49.5 percent) of the kids adhered to treatment during the first three months. About half stopped taking medication within the first month of treatment. Overall, only 20.6 percent of the children completed a full six months of antidepressant treatment, as recommended by medical standards. The researchers also found that when kids had optimal follow-up care with their mental health providers, and the right dosage prescribed, they had much better adherence rates to the full six-month treatment plan.

Fontanella said that although the best treatment for depressed youth is a combination of antidepressant drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy, there is a "huge gap" between science and the real world. "The gap is even greater for kids who live in poverty," she added.

The study was conducted just in the state of Ohio, but researchers believe the findings are relevant to children across the US who are eligible for Medicaid. Compared to children with private insurance, Medicaid-covered kids use more mental health services and are more likely to be prescribed psychiatric medications. These youth may be more vulnerable to depression because of the stress of living in poverty.

The findings were published in the July/August 2011 issue of The Annals of Pharmacotherapy.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 29, 2011
Last Updated:
August 30, 2011