PloS one
Alternate Journal

UNLABELLED: This study aimed to comprehensively describe prevalence and temporal dispensing patterns for medications prescribed to children and adolescents in the United States. Participants were 1.6 million children (49% female) under 18 years old enrolled in a nation-wide, employer-provided insurance plan. All medication claims from 1999-2006 were reviewed retrospectively. Drugs were assigned to 16 broad therapeutic categories. Effects of trend over time, seasonality, age and gender on overall and within category prevalence were examined.

RESULTS: Mean monthly prevalence for dispensed medications was 23.5% (range 19.4-27.5), with highest rates in winter and lowest in July. The age group with the highest prevalence was one-year-old children. On average each month, 17.1% of all children were dispensed a single drug and 6.4% were dispensed two or more. Over time, prevalence for two or more drugs did not change, but the proportion of children dispensed a single drug decreased (slope -.02%, p= .001). Overall, boys had higher monthly rates than girls (average difference 0.9%, p= .002). However, differences by gender were greatest during middle childhood, especially for respiratory and central nervous system agents. Contraceptives accounted for a large proportion of dispensed medication to older teenage girls. Rates for the drugs with the highest prevalence in this study were moderately correlated (average Pearson r.66) with those from a previously published national survey.

CONCLUSION: On average, nearly one quarter of a population of insured children in the United States was dispensed medication each month. This rate decreased somewhat over time, primarily because proportionally fewer children were dispensed a single medication. The rate for two or more drugs dispensed simultaneously remained steady.

Olson KL, Mandl KD. Temporal patterns of medications dispensed to children and adolescents in a national insured population. PloS one. 2012;7(7):e40991. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040991.