More children taking prescription drugs to treat chronic conditions

American children are taking more medications than ever before to treat chronic conditions, according to the 2010 Medco Drug Trend Report, raising the question, “How safe are these drugs for children?”

The drug trend report looked at prescription drug spending growth between 2001 and 2009 and found that prescription drug use among children has grown four times higher than the overall population. More than one in four insured kids and nearly 30 percent of adolescents (10-19 years of age) took at least one prescription medication to treat chronic conditions.

The most substantial increases were seen in the use of antipsychotic, diabetes and asthma drugs over the past nine years. But drugs to treat hypertension and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, have climbed as well. The number of children and infants taking some form of prescription heartburn medication to treat GERD or colic increased by a startling 147 percent.

How safe are these medications for children? A study published last week in The Archives of Internal Medicine shows that use of these drugs increases the risk of infection by Colstridium difficile, a harmful intestinal bacteria. And some medications can have even more dangerous side effects.

For example, the prescription drug Reglan (metoclopramide), used to treat severe heartburn and GERD in both adult and pediatric patients, carries a black box warning that long term use may cause patients to suffer from Tardive Dyskinesia, a severe movement disorder. The drug can mask symptoms of the condition, which can get worse and even linger long after the medication has been discontinued.