Youngsters in the United States are three times likelier to be prescribed antidepressants and stimulants and twice as likely to be given antipsychotic drugs than counterparts in Germany and the Netherlands, according to a new study.
The use of antidepressants and stimulants such as Prozac and Ritalin to treat hyperactivity, attention deficit and bipolar disorders in teenagers and young children has become a subject of sharp controversy.
Proponents say these powerful drugs, known as psychotropics, target newly identified conditions that were undertreated or misdiagnosed in the past.
Critics say the medications are being used too broadly, addressing behavioral problems that should be tackled by softer therapies.
One in 12 of American children aged five to nine were taking these medications, four times the European levels.
Seeking explanations for the disparity on either side of the Atlantic, the study noted that direct-to-consumer drug advertising was allowed in the United States, but banned in Europe.
Cultural differences could also play a role, they suggest.