University of Michigan: Antibiotic prescriptions for children plunge during COVID-19 pandemic

Presciption drugs

ANN ARBOR – As children engaged in COVID-19 mitigation measures like virtual schooling and social distancing, fewer visits to health facilities saw a steep decline of the number of children receiving prescription drugs, according to a new study by the University of Michigan.

Medications prescribed for kids fell by more than 25 percent from March to November 2020 compared to the year prior. The medications with the steepest declines were cold-and-cold drugs and antibiotics.

The amount of antibiotics prescribed to children and teens plummeted by nearly 56% from April to December 2020 compared to the same months the previous year.

According to the findings, researchers also saw a decrease in prescriptions for asthma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but not for antidepressants.

“The decline in the number of children receiving antibiotics is consistent with the large decreases in infection-related pediatric visits during 2020,” lead author Kao-Ping Chua, a pediatrician and researcher at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center said in a release.

”Because antibiotics have important side effects, the dramatic decreases in antibiotic dispensing may be a welcome development. However, declines in dispensing of chronic disease drugs could be concerning.”

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 92 percent of pharmacies in the country to track any changes in dispensing to infants through 19-year-olds during the pandemic.

Chua said that the decrease in antibiotic dispensing reflected the effect COVID mitigation measures had on reducing overall infections. His previous research suggests that nearly 25 percent of child and adult antibiotic prescriptions may be unnecessary.

Antibiotics can cause concerning side effects in children and are the leading cause of visits to the pediatric emergency room for adverse drug cases.

Chua said that overuse of antibiotics can cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop over time.

Similar to antibiotics, prescription cough suppressants can also cause harmful side effects in young children. In light of this, researchers were happy to report an 80 percent drop in these antitussive drugs during the study period in 2020.

“From the perspective of health care quality, the sharp decline in dispensing of cough-and-cold medications may represent a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chua in a release.

With the lifting of social distancing measures, prescription infection-related drugs for children could rise again, said Chua, but COVID safety measures like mask wearing in day cares and schools could keep infections low for now.