- FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. (Reuters)
- Kids have surpassed senior citizens as the hot ticket in the prescription
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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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