More Children On Medicaid Taking Psych Drugs

Poor children, specifically children covered by Medicaid, are more likely to be on antipsychotic drugs than children in the general population according to an article in today’s New York Times. This disparity has been revealed in recently federal financed research studies.

Those findings, by a team from Rutgers and Columbia, are almost certain to add fuel to a long-running debate. Do too many children from poor families receive powerful psychiatric drugs not because they actually need them — but because it is deemed the most efficient and cost-effective way to control problems that may be handled much differently for middle-class children?

4% of the children on Medicaid are being given antipsychotic drugs while the rate is only 1% for children and adolescents covered by private insurers. While conditions associated with poverty may double the amount of children with serious disturbances, this ratio is way too high.

As a result, studies have found that children in low-income families may have a higher rate of mental health problems — perhaps two to one — compared with children in better-off families. But that still does not explain the four-to-one disparity in prescribing antipsychotics.

Children on Medicaid are also more likely to be prescribed antipsychotic drugs for less serious conditions than those for which the drugs were designed as a result of “off label” marketing.

This development must also add fuel to the health care debate raging in Congress. When you have more kids on a public insurance plan, is this going to mean even more kids on antipsychotic drugs? This public health care package may lessen the effect of having two health care systems, one for the rich and another for the poor or, on the other hand, it may increase this disparity. No crystal ball is going to resolve this matter sufficiently. Only when people care enough to make a difference is that difference likely to be made.

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