Dispensing of psychotropic medications to Australian children and adolescents before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, 2013–2021: a retrospective cohort study

Stephen J. Wood, Jenni Ilomäki, Jacqueline Gould, George S.Q. Tan, Melissa Raven, Jon N. Jureidini, Luke E. Grzeskowiak

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Abstract

Objective: To determine longitudinal patterns of dispensing of antidepressant, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, psychostimulant, and hypnotic/sedative medications to children and adolescents in Australia during 2013–2021. 

Design: Retrospective cohort study; analysis of 10% random sample of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) dispensing data. 

Participants, setting: People aged 18 years or younger dispensed PBS-subsidised psychotropic medications in Australia, 2013–2021. 

Main outcome measures: Population prevalence of dispensing of psychotropic medications to children and adolescents, by psychotropic class, gender, and age group (0–6, 7–12, 13–18 years). 

Results: The overall prevalence of psychotropic dispensing to children and adolescents was 33.8 per 1000 boys and 25.2 per 1000 girls in 2013, and 60.0 per 1000 boys and 48.3 per 1000 girls in 2021. The prevalence of psychotropic polypharmacy was 5.4 per 1000 boys and 3.7 per 1000 girls in 2013, and 10.4 per 1000 boys and 8.3 per 1000 girls in 2021. Prevalent dispensing during 2021 was highest for psychostimulants (boys, 44.0 per 1000; girls, 17.4 per 1000) and antidepressants (boys, 20.4 per 1000; girls, 33.8 per 1000). During 2021, the prevalence of dispensing was higher than predicted by extrapolation of 2013–2019 data for many classes, including antidepressants (boys: +6.1%; 95% CI, 1.1–11.1%; girls: +22.2%; 95% CI, 17.4–26.9%), and psychostimulants (boys: +14.5%; 95% CI, 8.0–21.1%; girls: +27.7%; 95% CI, 18.9–36.6%). The increases were greatest for girls aged 13–18 years (antidepressants: +20.3%; 95% CI, 16.9–23.7%; psychostimulants: +39.0%; 95% CI, 27.9–50.0%). 

Conclusions: The prevalence of both psychotropic dispensing and psychotropic polypharmacy for children and adolescents were twice as high in 2021 as in 2013. The reasons and appropriateness of the marked increases in psychotropic dispensing during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly to adolescent girls, should be investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-25
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Volume219
Issue number1
Early online date14 May 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Keywords

  • Child psychiatry
  • COVID-19
  • Pediatrics
  • Pharmacoepidemiology
  • Prescribing
  • Psychotropic drugs

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