Kids covered by Medicaid are four times more likely to be taking strong antipsychotic drugs than children who have private health insurance, leading many to question why and wonder what side effects children covered by the government health care program for the poor may face as a result.

Poor children are more likely to be prescribed the psychiatric medication even when they face milder issues than children covered by their parents’ insurance, the findings of a study conducted by Rutgers and Columbia University researchers show.

The results are based on an analysis of children in seven large states between 2001 and 2004. Researchers found that 4 percent of children on Medicaid ages 6 to 17 were taking antipsychotic drugs, while fewer than 1 percent of children with private insurance had similar prescriptions.

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Experts are split on why this phenomenon is occurring and the research, which is available online ahead of publication in the journal Health Affairs, is stirring debate. Some say they are surprised by the findings while others who observe mental health trends in young people say the findings reinforce long-held suspicions that poorer children are frequently medicated but are less likely to receive therapy.

The reason may be that medication is easy to dispense, but it can be difficult to find a therapy provider who will accept Medicaid and such counseling takes a long-term commitment.

On the flip side, however, some say the more frequent prescription of psychiatric drugs to kids on Medicaid may actually indicate that these children are receiving better care. The reason, they say, is that children on Medicaid get medication for free without worries about co-pays.

Since kids on Medicaid come from low-income families, it is also possible that the increased use of antipsychotics stems from greater stresses that these children face.

Still, there are worries about the long-term effects these drugs could be having such as weight gain and metabolic issues, especially if they are being used in children who could perhaps be better treated using other means, reports The New York Times. To read more click here.