Children receiving fewer antibiotic prescriptions: 6 things to know

Compared to previous years, children and adolescents are receiving fewer prescription medications, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine has found.

Here are six things to know.

1. "The decrease in antibiotic use is really what's driving this overall decline in prescription medication use that we're seeing in children and adolescents," lead study author Craig Hales, MD, told NPR.

2. Dr. Hales said the decrease in prescription drug use is a positive sign. "Thirty percent of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and potentially dangerous," he said, particularly when prescribed for viral infections, where they are ineffective. In addition to potential side effects, the overuse of antibiotics decreases the chance these drugs will be able to cure infections.

3. The study authors gathered data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study, which included 38,277 children and adolescents. Using this data, the researchers compared prescription drug use from 1999 to 2002 with prescriptions given from 2011 to 2014, which was the last available dataset.

4. Overall, the study found the proportion of children and adolescents receiving prescriptions decreased from about 25 percent to 22 percent. However, the study found prescriptions for asthma, contraception and attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder increased.

5. Additionally, the study revealed a significant disparity in prescription use among children and adolescents who were insured versus those who were uninsured. About 23 percent of children and adolescents with insurance had recently taken some kind of prescription, as opposed to 10 percent of those who were uninsured.

6. Although the findings are difficult to interpret and the study does not fully address whether the gap in antibiotic use is a sign of overuse among the insured or underuse in the uninsured, Dr. Hales said he hopes these findings will trigger further research.

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