To examine changes in the full spectrum of psychotropic medication treatment for youths from 1987 to 1996.
A population-based analysis of community treatment data on nearly 900 000 youths enrolled in 2 US health care systems included (1) computerized Medicaid data from 2 states (a midwestern state and a mid-Atlantic state) composed of outpatient prescription claims and enrollment records and (2) computerized prescription dispensing records from a group-model health maintenance organization. Ten 1-year cross-sectional data sets from 1987 through 1996 were analyzed.
Total psychotropic medication prevalence for youths increased 2- to 3-fold and included most classes of medication. The rapid growth since 1991 of α-agonists, neuroleptics, and "mood stabilizer" anticonvulsants was particularly notable. The 1996 prevalence of any psychotropic medication among youths younger than 20 years was remarkably similar (5.9%-6.3%) across all 3 sites, with stimulants and antidepressants consistently ranked first and second. Medicaid rates almost always exceeded health maintenance organization rates by large margins, particularly for α-agonists, neuroleptics, "mood stabilizer" anticonvulsants, and lithium. Youths in health maintenance organizations had rates similar to Medicaid-insured youths for antidepressants and hypnotics. Over the decade, there was a proportional increase in females receiving stimulants and in males receiving antidepressants, particularly for the 10- to 14-year-old group. The prevalence ratios of whites to African Americans narrowed substantially in 1 Medicaid site.
Youth psychotropic treatment utilization during the 1990s nearly reached adult utilization rates. Youth findings can be used to accurately assess the duration of treatment and unforeseen practice pattern changes, and to identify safety concerns.