This research study aimed to assess national trends in pediatric use of anticonvulsants for seizures and psychiatric disorders.
In a cross-sectional design, data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey were analyzed. Outpatient visit information for youths (ages 0–17 years) was grouped by year for 1996–1997, 2000–2001, 2004–2005, and 2008–2009. Six of the most common anticonvulsant drugs used for psychiatric conditions were examined. Psychiatric diagnoses and seizure or convulsion diagnoses were identified with ICD-9-CM codes. The primary outcome measure was percentage prevalence of visits for anticonvulsants that included a psychiatric diagnosis as a proportion of total youth visits for an anticonvulsant. Total, diagnosis-stratified, and drug-specific visits, as well as visits for concomitant anticonvulsants and psychotropics, were analyzed.
As a proportion of total youth visits for anticonvulsants, visits with a psychiatric diagnosis increased 1.7 fold (p<.001), whereas the proportion of seizure-related visits did not change significantly. Regardless of diagnosis, anticonvulsant use significantly increased, from .33% to .68% of total youth visits in the 14-year period. There were significant increases in anticonvulsant use to treat pediatric bipolar disorder and disruptive behavior disorders. Visits noting divalproex decreased while visits noting lamotrigine increased among visits involving a psychiatric diagnosis. The concomitant use of stimulants and anticonvulsants significantly increased in visits noting a psychiatric diagnosis.
Whereas anticonvulsant use for seizure disorders across the 14-year period was stable, the use of these drugs for psychiatric conditions rose to a dominant position. The growth of concomitant and off-label use to treat behavioral disorders raises questions about effectiveness and safety in community populations of youths.