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Psychoactive medication prescribing practices for U.S. children: gaps between research and clinical practice.

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  • 1Child and Adolescent Research, NIMH, Bethesda, MD 20892-9669, USA.



To determine national pediatric prescribing practices for psychotropic agents and to examine these practices in view of the available evidence concerning their safety and efficacy in this age group.


Prescribing data from 2 national databases based on surveys of office-based medical practices were determined and reviewed vis-à-vis available safety and efficacy evidence.


Data indicate that levels of psychotropic prescribing in children and adolescents are greatest for stimulants, resulting in nearly 2 million office visits and 6 million drug "mentions" in 1995. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were the second most prescribed psychotropic agents, while anticonvulsant mood stabilizers (prescribed for a psychiatric reason), tricyclic antidepressants, central adrenergic agonists, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and lithium were also prescribed for a substantial number of office visits. Comparison of prescribing frequencies with available safety and efficacy data indicates significant gaps in knowledge for commonly used agents.


Most psychotropic agents require further sustained study to ensure appropriate health care expenditures and vouchsafe children's safety. Recommendations for researchers, parents, federal agencies, and industry are offered as a means to accelerate the pace of research progress.

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