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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: Preschoolers on Medicaid Receiving Psychotropic Drugs

Psychotropic drugs are being administered to 1.2 percent of preschool children on Medicaid in the U.S., despite limited evidence supporting safety or efficacy, according to new research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Ramesh Raghavan
[Photo: Dr. Ramesh Raghavan]

Using 2000-2003 Medicaid Analytic Extract data from 36 states, researchers at the Brown School and at Washington University School of Medicine found that preschoolers are receiving medications including antidepressants, mood stabilizers and medications for attention-deficit disorder.

“Because we don’t have indications in our data, it is not entirely clear why these children are receiving psychotropic drugs,” said Dr. Lauren Garfield, lead author on the study, who was a postdoctoral research associate at the Brown School when the study was conducted and is now with Mercy Research in St. Louis.

Co-author Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, associate professor at the Brown School, called the findings “worrisome.”

“If these medications are being used solely for behavioral control, then it seems clear that we need to better assess these children and see if they might be better served by the use of evidence-based behavioral interventions,” he said.

Dr. Raghavan is currently on sabbatical, serving at the Administration on Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington.

The results of the study are published in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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