Does Residential Treatment Impact Pharmacotherapy in Children and Adolescents?

Does Residential Treatment Impact Pharmacotherapy in Children and Adolescents?

The Child and Adolescent Service System Program (CASSP) model launched by the National Institute of Mental Health stated that youth with emotional disturbances should be treated in the least restrictive setting (Stroul and Friedman, 1986). However, clinicians often encounter children and adolescents with severe psychiatric illnesses who require 24-hour supervised treatment. At the same time that long-term state hospital beds have been significantly reduced, managed care has led to a sharp reduction in the length of stay of acute admissions (Pottick et al., 2000). As a result, pediatric patients who fail to respond to repeated brief hospitalizations and intensive outpatient programs are referred to residential treatment facilities (RTFs) (Wells, 1991). Patients in RTFs have severe and chronic disorders, have received a variety of treatments in the past and are often taking several psychotropic medications (Connor et al., 1998).

Addressing Polypharmacy

During brief hospital stays, medications are often used to quickly stabilize patients. During repeated admissions, medications often accumulate. New medications are added, while past medications may be continued for no apparent reason. For example, Connor et al. (1997) found polypharmacy in 60.3% of patients admitted to an RTF. One factor associated with polypharmacy was the number of previous psychiatric placements.

Despite the CASSP principles, many youth continue to be in need of residential treatment due to insufficient quality and quantity of outpatient services; overwhelming psychosocial adversity; and significant illness severity. Advantages of RTFs are the ability to treat the patient in a safe and structured environment with a multidisciplinary team (milieu therapy, individual and group psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, family therapy, special education) over a longer period of time. In this context, a minimum of pharmacotherapy need be instituted. Ideally, treatment in RTFs should lead to a reduction in medications.

This hypothesis was evaluated through a retrospective chart review of 24 male patients (mean age=12.8 plus/minus 2.5 with a range from 9 years to 17 years) consecutively treated in an RTF over an 18-month period. Seventy-five percent of patients were white, 17% were African-American, and 8% were Hispanic. Patients with mental retardation or significant substance use were not admitted.

On admission, all patients were interviewed with the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview for children and adolescents (MINI-KID) (Sheehan et al., 1998). Collateral information was obtained from parents, past records and social agencies. Physical examinations were routinely performed. Diagnoses were made according to DSM-IV along the five axes; these can be found in Table 1. The mean Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score on admission was 34.4±4.5.

On entry into the RTF, patients were taking an average of 2.6±1.4 medications (range=0 to 5). The numbers of medication taken can be found in the Figure and the types in Table 2. The number of prior medication trials, not including the admission medications, was 2.1±1.6.

The mean number of hospitalizations before the RTF placement was 3.1±2.4, with a range from 0 to 10. Statistically significant correlations existed between the number of prior hospitalizations and both the number of pre-RTF medication trials (R=0.64; p=0.0008; df 22) and the number of medications on admission (R=0.47; p=0.02; df 22).

Throughout the RTF stay (mean length of stay=279.3 days±163.1 days), progress was measured with the Child Behavior Rating Form-Abbreviated (CBRF) (Van Egeren et al., 1999), filled out twice per day by staff. Diagnosis-specific rating scales, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder scales in the classroom, were used as well. School and parent reports were reviewed twice per week. Mental status examinations were performed on a weekly basis by a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist. Based on this information, GAF scale scores on Axis V were adjusted.

During the treatment, 17 patients (71%) had the number of their medications reduced. Five patients remained on the same number and two patients were treated with an increased number of medications. Overall, the total number of medications prescribed decreased from 63 on admission to 38 on discharge, a 40% decrease. Alpha-2 agonists, antipsychotics and antidepressants were stopped most frequently. Patients were taking an average of 1.6±1.3 medications at discharge (range=0 to 4) (Figure). At the same time, the mean GAF score showed a 27% increase from 34.4±4.5 to 43.8±8.9.


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