Pediatric drug spending growing fast

Spending on drugs for kids under 19 grew 10.8 percent last year, according to a new report from Medco Health Solutions. That's bigger growth than in any other age group--almost four times the growth in any other group, in fact. Higher prices helped, but there was also a 5 percent increase in prescription drug use among kids. By comparison, drug use for over-65s grew by only two-tenths of one percent.

What gives? Well, kids are being medicated for illnesses that once were reserved for much older people. Twenty-nine percent of kids aged 10 to 19 are taking meds for a chronic health condition. Some of those meds are asthma drugs, but the others are a bit scary: diabetes drugs, blood-pressure meds and cholesterol drugs. The number of adolescents taking heartburn meds grew by an amazing 174 percent.

"All of these adult drugs are popping up in children, which is really disturbing," Medco CMO Robert Epstein said on a media conference call (as quoted by the Wall Street Journal Health Blog). Epstein called the numbers on pediatric drug use "the real shocker" of the study and warned that unless some big lifestyle changes are in the offing, these children could end up with lower life expectancy.

- read the Medco statement
- see the WSJ post
- get more from Reuters