ABC News reports that a new study published in Pediatrics looks at how many prescriptions are being given to children and how many drugs they are taking at one time to determine if they are at risk for any major drug interactions.
The researchers gathered data from over 23,000 children 19-years-old and under using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2002 to 2014. They found that nearly one in five children used at least one prescription medication. About 7.5 percent used two or more and the highest use of prescriptions was among adolescent females (at 28 percent). Boys between ages six and 12 were at 26.5 percent.
Among pediatric patients, the most commonly prescribed medications were antidepressants, stimulants (for treating ADHD), and asthma medications.
For children using more than one medication, one in 12 were at risk of experiencing a major drug interaction and most of those potential interactions involved antidepressants. Adolescent girls had a higher risk of drug interactions than other groups, mostly because of their higher rate of medication use.
According to Jeanette Trella, Managing Director of the Poison Control Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “Drug interactions occur when one medication impacts the way another medication works on the body and how the other medication is broken down and cleared by the body. This can result in an increased risk of side effects; loss of effectiveness when one medication causes low levels of another; and increase in toxicity when one medication prevents the other from appropriately clearing out from the body.”
The study’s authors point out their findings should bring more attention to medication safety. Despite national programs that focus on safety, side effects remain a leading cause of death and injury among children in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 200,000 children visit the emergency room annually due to issues from medications.
According to the study’s lead researcher, Dima Qato, some of these reactions can be extremely dangerous and lead to things like heart arrhythmias and even cardiac arrest. She pointed out that the issue is likely even worse than what was observed in the study because the researchers only used data regarding prescription medications.
“We actually likely underestimate the prevalence of this problem because it’s limited to prescription drugs. Many short-term medications like naproxen [such as Aleve] are available over the counter.” Qato went on to say, “The way these kids use health care, they often go to retail clinics sometimes or emergency rooms. Their primary care doctor may not be aware of all the medications they’re on, particularly if they’re on them for a week or two.”
Doctors emphasize the importance of communication with all of your children’s health care providers. It’s important that a doctor knows all of the medications your child has been taking so they can inform you about any possible risks.