Kids Very Hot Market For
Prescription Drugs


FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. (Reuters) - Kids have surpassed senior citizens as the hot ticket in the prescription drug market.
While people over 50 are the largest drug market, Medco Health said in its annual survey released on Thursday that an increasing number of children are taking prescription drugs, making them the fastest growing prescription users in 2001.
Dr. Robert Epstein, Medco's chief medical officer, said more aggressive treatment and diagnosis of allergies and asthma, as well as higher cost antibiotics, have led to higher drug spending for the pediatric market.
Spending on prescription drugs for infants, children, adolescents and young adults has increased by 85 percent during the last five years, said Medco, which manages prescription drug plans covering 65 million people and operates a mail order pharmacy.
"We are concerned that many medical conditions we are treating in children not only require multiple medications now, but may be precursors to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory ailments -- conditions that will require a lifetime of drug therapy," Epstein said.
According to the 2002 Medco Drug Trend study, which reviewed the prescription drug use of half a million people under age 19, younger patients are taking 34 percent more medications than they were five years ago, based on days of therapy.
For the under-19 age group, drug trend -- the one-year rise in prescription spending per patient -- was 28 percent in 2001, compared to 23 percent in the 35-49 age group, and less than 10 percent in the 65 and older age group. The rise in spending was attributed to an increase in the cost of drugs and the introduction of new and more effective therapies, said Medco, which is a subsidiary of drug giant Merck & Co. Inc.
Members of Medco's pharmacy benefits management programs that are over 65, however, take 12 times more medications than younger populations, the company's survey found. Patients under 19 account for only 5 percent of drug spending, Medco said.
While asthma, allergies and anti-infective drugs were key drivers behind the increased drug spending, the cost of treating attention deficit hyper activity disorder (ADHD) increased by 122 percent over the past four years.
Spending on proton pump inhibitors to treat heartburn and other gastrointestinal disorders in children has increased by 660 percent over the past five years.
"Some of the issues we associate with adulthood are moving backwards to children," Epstein said, noting increased rates of obesity and diabetes in children. "It's a phenomenon of how American children are living today."
AGGRESSIVE ASTHMA TREATMENT FACTOR IN DRUG SPEND Epstein said doctors have become more aggressive in treating asthma over the past 10 years, leading to the increased spending on drugs such as Merck's Singulair and GlaxoSmithKline Plc.'s Advair. Medco said spending on treatments for allergies and pediatric asthma increased by 211 percent over the past five years.
Medco cited National Center for Health Statistics data that the number of pediatric emergency room visits has declined, especially in the respiratory category.
"The paradigm five or ten years ago for a lot of parents was to wait until the child wheezes enough to take him to the emergency room," said Epstein, who noted that using the asthma drugs is more preventative.
Spending on antibiotics over that period has increased by 42 percent, but the number of prescriptions written has declined. The spending increase resulted from doctors prescribing newer and stronger products that cost more, Epstein said.
Physicians and parents have become increasingly concerned that the overuse of antibiotics diminishes their effectiveness, Epstein said. Also, viruses, such as the common cold, do not respond to antibiotics.
"Antibiotics are not for every one and parents don't need to get them every time a child has a cold," Epstein said.
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