THURSDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Americans are popping more
antidepressants than ever before to deal with everyday stress, and
non-psychiatrists are increasingly willing to prescribe the drugs
to patients with no mental health diagnosis, a new study finds.
Antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil and Lexapro are now the
third most widely prescribed group of drugs in the United States,
and many people may take them for minor complaints without being
fully aware of potential risks, the researchers said.
"Both consumers and prescribers of antidepressants should be more knowledgeable about the indications (or symptoms) that antidepressants are better for," said study lead author Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. "Although these drugs do not have many acute side effects, there may be more long-term adverse effects."
The study authors said the increases don't necessarily mean that
the drugs are being used inappropriately, but it's necessary to
understand why antidepressant use is growing and, if necessary, to
develop policies that ensure patients get the most effective
Using data from annual surveys by the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, the researchers reviewed the records of
233,144 adult patients who made doctor visits between 1996 and
The study, published in the August issue of
Health Affairs, found that the percentage of prescriptions for antidepressants written by non-psychiatrists more than doubled from about 4 percent to almost 9 percent over the 12-year period.
This included 9,454 antidepressant prescriptions for patients
without a diagnosis of depression or other mental illness typically
treated with the medication. For that group, the rate jumped from
2.5 percent at the start of the study period to 6.4 percent, the
The study cautioned that a psychiatric diagnosis could have been
made in some cases, but simply wasn't noted in the records
By contrast, prescriptions for antidepressants for patients with
diagnoses such as major or chronic depression increased by 44
percent, a much smaller increase.
About 4,000 patients who did have a mental health diagnosis
received the drugs from non-psychiatrists in the study period.
The drugs prescribed to patients without a diagnosed mental
health condition were more likely provided to white women between
the ages of 35-64 and patients with public insurance and chronic
medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. The data
also suggested that people complaining of nervousness, sleep
problems, sexual dysfunction and an inability to quit smoking may
be taking antidepressants, the study said.
Americans are turning to drugs to deal with everyday stress more
frequently as the stigma of using antidepressants decreases, said
Mojtabai, noting more than 10 percent of Americans now take
antidepressants in any given year.
Direct marketing to consumers and reports of fewer side effects
may help explain why patients and doctors are more open to
antidepressants, he said.
But there may be consequences to that choice.
Some research has shown that withdrawal from antidepressants
after many years "is not pleasant," said Mojtabai, who added that a
possible link to diabetes has also been found. Not enough is known
about how their use plays out in the long term, said Mojtabai.
"Pharmaceutical companies aren't interested in long-term effects because they don't need that for FDA approval," said Mojtabai, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approves drugs for use in the United States.
Another expert agreed that Americans are turning more to
prescribed pills to deal with the ups and downs of life, but he
noted that in the past, alcohol and other drugs served the same
"Before antidepressants came along, many people simply turned to drinking and smoking to cope with minor stress," said Tony Tang, adjunct professor in the department of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Although the study did not "solve the mystery" of why
antidepressant prescriptions are increasing, it showed "how
antidepressants are actually used in the real world," and on a
"national scale," said Tang.
Doctors are likely more aware today of the symptoms of
depression, which has "increased substantially in the past decade,"
To learn more about depression, visit the
U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.