Proportion of Antidepressants Prescribed without a Psychiatric Diagnosis is Growing – Source: Health Affairs, Aug 4, 2011

[Note: According to the article, the purposes for primary care physician prescription of antidepressants for non-psychiatric diagnoses include for example boosting mood, relieving mild anxiety, or improving sleep, and the patients receiving off-label antidepressant prescriptions from these non-psychiatrists “were more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, or multiple medical conditions; have excessive fatigue and headaches; and to complain of nonspecific pain or abnormal sensations.” The authors advise both patients and physicians to discuss the evidence of antidepressant benefits for a problem [direct-to-consumer ads aside] and whether there might be alternatives to try.] 

Over the past two decades, the use of antidepressant medications has grown to the point that they are now the third most commonly prescribed class of medications in the United States. Much of this growth has been driven by a substantial increase in antidepressant prescriptions by nonpsychiatrist providers without an accompanying psychiatric diagnosis.

Our analysis found that between 1996 and 2007, the proportion of visits at which antidepressants were prescribed but no psychiatric diagnoses were noted increased from 59.5%  to 72.7%.

These results do not clearly indicate a rise in inappropriate antidepressant use, but they highlight the need to gain a deeper understanding of the factors driving this national trend and to develop effective policy responses.

To the extent that antidepressants are being prescribed for uses not supported by clinical evidence, there may be a need to improve providers’ prescribing practices, revamp drug formularies, or vigorously pursue implementation of broad reforms of the health care system that will increase communication between primary care providers and mental health specialists.

Source: Health Affairs, Aug 4, 2011;30 (8), 1434-1442. DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.2010.1024, by Mojtabai R, Olfson M. Johns Hoplins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland; College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York City; New York State Psychiatric Institute, NYC, USA. [Email:]

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