Children and teenagers under the age of 19 are the fastest growing segment of prescription medicine consumers in the United States, according to a new study commissioned by the pharmacy benefit manager Medco Health Solutions.
Prescription drug spending for young people jumped 28 percent in 2001, bringing the amount spent on children to about $7 billion-which represents about 5 percent of the estimated $140 billion market. During the five-year period from 1996 through 2001, spending in that niche increased 85 percent. The report studied the prescriptions of more than 500,000 consumers under 19 years old who are members of Medco's health plans.
By comparison, the age group with the next largest spending increase in 2001-people between the ages of 35 and 49-grew 23 percent.Glen Stettin, MD, an author of the report, says that, although there may be general concerns because more adolescents are taking medicine, he believes that products' benefits outweigh the risks. Stettin says the risks are minimal, in part because pharma companies are creating better quality medications.
"The underlying concern is whether this [increase in prescriptions for children] is necessary," Stettin says. "We can't say for sure, but I would not characterize it as an alarming trend. Although prescriptions may be up, one clear positive is that hospitalization for these patients is down."
"Parents and pediatricians have become much more active in recognizing illness in children and pursuing treatment," says Robert Epstein, MD, chief medical officer for Medco Health.
Consumers are spending money primarily on allergy and asthma medicines for young people, which represent approximately 80 percent of the total Rx market for young adults, the report states. Several allergy and asthma product manufacturers, including Schering-Plough, Aventis, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer Ingelheim, and AstraZeneca, will likely benefit from the increased prescriptions.
Looking at the recent past, three allergy products have dominated the market since the late 1990s in the United States: Schering-Plough's Claritin (loratadine), Aventis' Allegra (fexofenadine), and Pfizer's Zyrtec (cetirizine). According to USA Today, in 1999 those three medications generated combined sales of about $3.9 billion, which accounted for almost 4 percent of the $100 billion in total prescription drug spending that year.