Psychotropic Medication Prescribing: Youth in Foster Care Compared with Other Medicaid Enrollees

J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2023 May;33(4):149-155. doi: 10.1089/cap.2022.0092.


Objective: To compare the prevalence of psychotropic medication prescriptions among youth in foster care with those among nonfoster youth on Medicaid. Methods: Children ages 1-18 years in a region of a large southern state who were enrolled in their respective Medicaid plan for at least 30 days between 2014 and 2016 and had at least one health care claim were included. Medicaid prescription claims were categorized by class: alpha agonists, anxiolytics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and stimulants. Primary mental health (MH) or developmental disorder (DD) diagnostic groups were identified for each class. Analyses included chi-square tests, t-tests, Wilcoxon sign rank tests, and logistic regression. Results: A total of 388,914 nonfoster and 8426 children in foster care were included. Overall, 8% of nonfoster and 35% of foster youth were dispensed at least one prescription for a psychotropic medication. Prevalence was higher for youth in care within each drug class and, with one exception, across all age groups. Among children prescribed a psychotropic medication, the mean number of drug classes prescribed was 1.4 (SD 0.8) and 2.9 (SD 1.4) for nonfoster and foster youth, respectively (p < 0.000). Except for anxiolytics and mood stabilizers, more children in foster care were prescribed psychotropic medications without an MH or DD diagnosis. Finally, children in foster care experienced 6.8 (95% CI: 6.5-7.2) times higher odds of being prescribed a psychotropic medication than their nonfoster peers, after controlling for age group, gender, and number of mental and developmental diagnoses. Conclusions: Across all age groups, children in foster care on Medicaid were prescribed psychotropic medications disproportionately more than their nonfoster peers on Medicaid. In addition, children in foster care were significantly more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medication absent an MH or DD diagnosis.

Keywords: Medicaid; child; foster home care; mental health; psychotropic drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Antimanic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antipsychotic Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Foster*
  • Humans
  • Medicaid
  • Mental Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • United States


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Antimanic Agents