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Prescriptions of mind-altering drugs for children soar in France

Tens of thousands of children are affected by the rising prescriptions, according to a new report

A photo of a child covering their face with their hands to show distress

More drugs for mental health conditions are being prescribed to young children in France, new figures have shown Pic: fasphotographic / Shutterstock

Prescriptions of psychotropic or mind-altering drugs – including anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants and forms of anti-ADHD sedatives – for children have risen dramatically, according to a new report.

Figures from the family health authority le Haut Conseil de la famille, de l'enfance et de l'âge (HCFEA), released on March 13, showed that in 2021: 

  • Anti-anxiety prescriptions rose by 16%

  • Antidepressants: 23%

  • Sedatives and anti-attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs: 224%

In practice, this affected “tens of thousands of children”, said HCFEA. 

Between 2014 and 2021, the consumption of psychotropic medicines (those that alter the mind in some way) among children has increased by 49% for antipsychotics, 63% for antidepressants, and 155% for relaxants and sedatives, the HCFEA said.

The council said: “This phenomenon of over-medication is not only related to isolated cases but tens of thousands of children. These levels of increase are out of all proportion (two to 20 times higher) to those observed in the general population.

"Children appear to be clearly more exposed than adults to psychological suffering and difficulties, and also to medication for it.”

It said that mental health problems in children were rising, due to delays in accessing care and issues such as “the health crisis, the war in Ukraine, and climate change worry”, HCFEA said.

“Paediatric psychiatric and medico-social care is in decline and no longer allows children and families to be received within a reasonable time,” it said. “Waiting times are around six to 18 months. 

“The number of children with psychological problems is increasing.”

This causes a vicious cycle, it said, with more children in difficulty, and less healthcare capacity to help. This is also causing a “worsening in children’s health…a rise in urgent hospitalisations, and suicide attempts by children and teenagers”, it said.

Read also: French teenagers are less interested in alcohol, cannabis and tobacco

‘Number one health issue’ in France

The agency said other countries are seeing a drop in medication for younger people, while in France prescriptions for the ADHD drug methylphenidate increased by 116%.

The agency said that “mental health is considered to be the number one public health issue for children in France and internationally. 

“Psychological suffering can have repercussions on the child's development, feelings, emotions, relationship with themselves, language and the body, family and social ties, schooling and social ties, their school career, and their professional future.”

In response, it called for “the implementation of policies and care practices, education, prevention, and social intervention”. 

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