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Open Access Research article

Psychotropic medication in the French child and adolescent population: prevalence estimation from health insurance data and national self-report survey data

Eric Acquaviva123*, Stéphane Legleye124, Guy R Auleley5, Jean Deligne6, Didier Carel7 and Bruno Falissard B128

Author Affiliations

1 Inserm U669, PSIGIAM, Paris, France

2 Université Paris-Sud, UMR-S0669, Paris, France

3 Hôpital Robert Debré, Service de psychiatrie, Paris, France

4 Observatoire Français des Drogues et toxicomanies, Saint Denis, France

5 Caisse Nationale du RSI, La Plaine-Saint Denis, France

6 Régime Social des Indépendants Nord - Pas de Calais, Lille, France

7 Urcam de Franche-Comté, Besançon, France

8 Hôpital Paul Brousse, Département de santé publique, Villejuif, France

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BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9:72  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-9-72

Published: 17 November 2009



The aim of this work is to estimate the French frequencies of dispensed psychotropic prescriptions in children and adolescents. Prevalence estimations of dispensed prescriptions are compared to the frequencies of use of psychotropic reported by 17 year-old adolescents.


Prescription data is derived from national health insurance databases. Frequencies of dispensed prescriptions are extrapolated to estimate a range for the 2004 national rates. Self-report data is derived from the 2003 and 2005 ESCAPAD study, an epidemiological study based on a questionnaire focused on health and drug consumption.


The prevalence estimation shows that the prevalence of prescription of a psychotropic medication to young persons between 3 and 18 years is about 2.2%.

In 2005, the self-report study (ESCAPAD) shows that 14.9% of 17 year-old adolescents took medication for "nerves" or "to sleep" during the previous 12 months. The same study in 2003 also shows that 62.3% of adolescents aged 17 and 18 reporting psychotropic use, took the medication for anxiety and 56.8% to sleep. Only 49.7% of these medications are suggested by a doctor.


This study underlines a similar range of prevalence of psychotropic prescriptions in France to that observed in other European countries. Nevertheless, the proportion of antipsychotics and benzodiazepines seems to be higher, whereas the proportion of methylphenidate is lower.

Secondly, a disparity between the prevalence of dispensed prescriptions and the self-report of actual use of psychotropics has been highlighted by the ESCAPAD study which shows that these treatments are widely used as "self-medication".