Psychoactive Medication Prescribing Practices for U.S. Children: Gaps Between Research and Clinical Practice

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1999 May;38(5):557-65. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199905000-00017.


Objective: To determine national pediatric prescribing practices for psychotropic agents and to examine these practices in view of the available evidence concerning their safety and efficacy in this age group.

Method: Prescribing data from 2 national databases based on surveys of office-based medical practices were determined and reviewed vis-à-vis available safety and efficacy evidence.

Results: Data indicate that levels of psychotropic prescribing in children and adolescents are greatest for stimulants, resulting in nearly 2 million office visits and 6 million drug "mentions" in 1995. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were the second most prescribed psychotropic agents, while anticonvulsant mood stabilizers (prescribed for a psychiatric reason), tricyclic antidepressants, central adrenergic agonists, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and lithium were also prescribed for a substantial number of office visits. Comparison of prescribing frequencies with available safety and efficacy data indicates significant gaps in knowledge for commonly used agents.

Conclusions: Most psychotropic agents require further sustained study to ensure appropriate health care expenditures and vouchsafe children's safety. Recommendations for researchers, parents, federal agencies, and industry are offered as a means to accelerate the pace of research progress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Psychiatry / trends*
  • Child
  • Child Psychiatry / trends*
  • Drug Costs
  • Drug Prescriptions / economics
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Expenditures
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Psychotropic Drugs / economics
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Research / trends
  • United States


  • Psychotropic Drugs