Fewer Antibiotics, More ADHD Meds Prescribed For Kids

By Amir Khan on June 19, 2012 9:37 AM EDT

Ritalin
Over the past eight years, doctors have prescribed fewer antibiotics but more ADHD, medication, such as Ritalin (pictured), to children, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

Over the past eight years, doctors have prescribed fewer antibiotics to children, according to a new study by the Food and Drug Administration, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday. However, over that same time period, the number of children prescribed drugs for ADHD has skyrocketed.

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Between 2002 and 2010, antibiotic use in children decreased by 14 percent, which indicates that the FDA's attempts to curb overuse of the drugs "may be working," according to the study. While kids were prescribed fewer antibiotics, adults have taken more -- adult prescriptions rose by 11 percent over the past eight years.

The overuse of antibiotics has led to an increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to the FDA.

Antibiotics work by killing susceptible bacteria, but some microbes can survive because of an ability to neutralize or avoid an antibiotic. Resistant strains, either naturally or through mutations, survive, multiply and replace bacteria destroyed by antibiotics.

"Bacteria that were at one time susceptible to an antibiotic can acquire resistance through mutation of their genetic material or by acquiring pieces of DNA that code for the resistance properties from other bacteria," according to the CDC website. "The DNA that codes for resistance can be grouped in a single easily transferable package. This means that bacteria can become resistant to many antimicrobial agents because of the transfer of one piece of DNA."

The biggest contributor to bacteria drug resistance is the over-prescription of antibiotics, according to the CDC. Antibiotics are frequently prescribed for viruses, simply because healthcare providers think patients expect them. The common cold is the most common reason antibiotics are prescribed, despite the fact that antibiotics do not affect viruses.

"This could potentially be good news," Dr. Kenneth Bromberg, chairman of pediatrics at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City, told HealthDay. "The antibiotic numbers are consistent with the efforts to decrease the use of antibiotics for upper respiratory infections."

Although doctors are prescribing fewer antibiotics to children, there has been a sharp rise in ADHD medication prescriptions, according to the study. Over the past eight years, ADHD prescriptions have increased 46 percent.

"What the article is suggesting is that the number of children that we are treating for attention deficit disorder has gone up," Scott Benson, a spokesperson for the American Psychiatric Association, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters. "For the most part I think the overall increase reflects a reduction in the stigma. It used to be 'You're a bad parent if you can't get your child to behave, and you're a doubly bad parent if you put them on medicine."

Birth control pills and asthma medication prescriptions also increased, though the FDA said it could not explain the reasons behind the increase.

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