NEW ORLEANS -- The use of antidepressants soared among children and teen-agers between 1988 and 1994, a study says.
The study, which gathered data on 900,000 youths ages 2 to 19, found three- to fivefold increases over the seven-year span, based on data from two state Medicaid systems and a health maintenance organization.
The sharp rise could reflect a needed increase after years of underrecognition and undertreatment of disorders, said Julie Zito, an associate professor of pharmacy and medicine at the University of Maryland.
But she said it is also possible that the drugs are being overused.
In 1994, about 1.8 percent of children in the Medicaid programs and about 1.3 percent in the HMO were taking antidepressants, Zito said. Not all that use was for depression; many took the drugs for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
The rates increased with age, ranging from about 0.2 percent in children ages 2 to 4, to 3 percent or 4 percent for youth ages 15 to 19.
Zito is scheduled to present her data Wednesday at a meeting in New Orleans of the American Psychiatric Association. She declined to say which states' Medicaid systems contributed data to the study, but she did say one state was Midwestern and the other in the mid-Atlantic region.
Dr. Joseph Coyle, chairman of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said he suspects the increase reflects better recognition of depression.
Depression is the most common serious psychiatric disorder in youth and adolescents, he said.
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