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US teens’ use of psychiatric drugs levels off

About 6 percent of US teenagers report using a psychiatric medicine, such as an antidepressant or attention-deficit treatment, as drug therapy for the conditions remains steady, a government survey found.

Boys were more likely to get stimulant medications such as Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the report Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Girls were more likely to use antidepressants. Drugs for ADHD and antidepressants were the most-common medicines used by 12- to 19-year-olds surveyed from 2005 to 2010.

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The research is similar to an analysis of a 1999-2004 survey, which found about 6.8 percent of teens reported using a psychotropic drug, said Bruce Jonas, a study author and researcher at the National Center for Health Statistics. From 1988-1994, about 1 percent of children received these medications, though those numbers are less reliable, because fewer were surveyed, he said.

‘‘After the initial jump, it’s been steady,” Jonas said.

The reasons for the jump were not in the report, though Jonas suggested they might be because of increased awareness of mental illness among teens and new treatments.

Depression and ADHD are the most-common mental illnesses among adolescents, according to Wednesday’s study. Not enough data were available on treatments other than drugs, such as psychotherapy, to say how widely they were used. The teens were asked whether they had used the medications within the previous six months of the survey. About half of those who reported using the drugs had seen a mental health professional within the past year, according to the survey.

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