By Michelle Healy
The number of antibiotic prescriptions for kids declined 14% from 2002 to 2010, but antibiotics remain the most frequently prescribed drugs for pediatric patients, a federal analysis finds. Antibiotics accounted for about a quarter of all pediatric prescriptions; amoxicillin leads the list.
Overall, 263.6 million prescriptions were written for patients 17 and under in 2010, down 7% from 2002, finds the analysis of prescription claims databases by Food and Drug Administration researchers, published today in the journal Pediatrics. By comparison, 3.3 billion were dispensed for ages 18 and up, 22% more than in 2002.
The medical community has made "an enormous effort to decrease antibiotic use" for kids in the past decade "by educating parents about the futility of treating viral infections with antibiotics" and about antibiotic resistance, the FDA study says.
Those efforts "are succeeding to some extent," but this study and others show antibiotic overuse "is still a big problem," says Adam Hersh, assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah. He says overuse of azithromycin and other broad-spectrum antibiotics "is contributing to the epidemic of antibiotic-resistant infections."
Other drug categories down from 2002-2010 were allergy medications (61%); pain (14%); and cough/cold without expectorant (42%). But prescriptions increasing include corticosteroids for asthma (14%); contraceptives (up 93%, possibly because of secondary uses, such as acne) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (46%).
"It's good news that cough and cold prescriptions are down, given that they don't work and can have serious side effects," says Danny Benjamin, a professor of pediatric medicine at Duke University. In 2008, the FDA advised against them for the youngest children. But he says the rise in prescriptions for ADHD and off-label use of proton pump inhibitors for certain gastrointestinal disorders is worrisome. Safety of long-term ADHD drugs is unknown, he says. The study cites 358,000 outpatient prescriptions for lansoprazole (Prevacid) for infants, despite labeling that it is not effective in babies under 1 year.