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Geographic variation and sociodemographic correlates of prescription psychotropic drug use among children and youth in Ontario, Canada: a population-based study


Background — Population-based research examining geographic variability in psychotropic medication dispensing to children and youth and the sociodemographic correlates of such variation is lacking. Variation in psychotropic use could reflect disparities in access to non-pharmacologic interventions and identify potentially concerning use patterns.

Methods — We conducted a population-based study of all Ontario residents aged 0 to 24 years who were dispensed a benzodiazepine, stimulant, antipsychotic or antidepressant between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2018. We conducted small-area variation analyses and identified determinants of dispensing using negative binomial generalized estimating equation models.

Results — The age- and sex-standardized rate of psychotropic dispensing to children and youth was 76.8 (range 41.7 to 144.4) prescriptions per 1000 population, with large variation in psychotropic dispensing across Ontario’s census divisions. Males had higher antipsychotic [rate ratio (RR) 1.40; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.36 to 1.44) and stimulant (RR 1.75; 95% CI 1.70 to 1.80) dispensing rates relative to females, with less use of benzodiazepines (RR 0.85; 95% CI 0.83 to 0.88) and antidepressants (RR 0.81; 95% CI 0.80 to 0.82). Lower antipsychotic dispensing was observed in the highest income neighbourhoods (RR 0.72; 95% CI 0.70 to 0.75) relative to the lowest. Benzodiazepine (RR 1.12; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.24) and stimulant (RR 1.11; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.23) dispensing increased with the density of mental health services in census divisions, whereas antipsychotic use decreased (RR 0.82; 95% CI 0.73 to 0.91). The regional density of child and adolescent psychiatrists and developmental pediatricians (RR 1.00; 95% CI 0.99 to 1.01) was not associated with psychotropic dispensing.

Conclusion — We found significant variation in psychotropic dispensing among young Ontarians. Targeted investment in regions with long wait times for publicly-funded non-pharmacological interventions and novel collaborative service models may minimize variability and promote best practices in using psychotropics among children and youth.



Antoniou T, McCormack D, Kitchen S, Pajer K, Gardner W, Lunsky Y, Penner M, Tadrous M, Mamdani M, Juurlink DN, Gomes T. BMC Public Health. 2023; 23(1):85. Epub 2023 Jan 11.

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