Does the market have you thinking about getting a little pharmacological help to ease your jitters and lift your mood? Getting a prescription for Prozac is easier than you think. In fact, you can skip the appointment with a psychiatrist altogether.

A study released last week in Health Affairs journal found a growing trend of doctors who aren't psychiatrists offering antidepressants to patients. The meds often get prescribed without any psychiatric diagnosis, simply to boost someone's mood, relieve mild anxiety, or improve sleep. Worse yet, there's no evidence these drugs actually help such patients.

All these questionable prescriptions helped make this class of drugs one of the most commonly prescribed in the U.S. In 2010, according to IMS Health data, antidepressants spending grew to $11.6 billion. The class was the second most prescribed after cholesterol regulators and heart meds, with nearly 254 million prescriptions.

It's No Secret Who's Really Smiling

The growth in antidepressant use brings a smile to at least one group of people: Big Pharma.


While Eli Lilly's (LLY) Prozac has long lost its patent protection, U.S. Cymbalta sales for 2010 grew 9% to $2.8 billion, topping the $758 million mark in the most recent second quarter. Bristol-Myers Squibb's (BMY) Abilify U.S. sales grew by 5% in the recent quarter, to 517 million. AstraZeneca's (AZN) second-quarter U.S. sales of Seroquel XR grew 14% to $205 million. (Both Seroquel XR and Abilify are atypical antipsychotics approved by the FDA as adjunct treatments for depression that doesn't respond to a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor like Prozac or Zoloft alone.)

The study made no mention of any illegal marketing practices by pharmaceuticals that may have contributed to this trend, although such allegations regarding off-label marketing are certainly not foreign to AstraZeneca or Eli Lilly, among many others.

However, the study said that direct-to-consumer advertising could be causing patients to request the drugs. The U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries that allow advertising for prescription medications.

Do We Have a Drug Problem?

The researchers are concerned that this growing trend of non-psychiatrists prescribing antidepressants could mean that the drugs get prescribed inappropriately. They worry that patients who haven't been properly diagnosed are not receiving the best care they need. The study suggests starting by educating physicians on mental disorders, the drugs, and their appropriate use.

The researchers also encourage patients to ask questions -- lots of them, including questions about the diagnoses, the side effects, possible alternative treatments, and whether antidepressants are the right treatment for their problems in the first place.

Motley Fool contributor Melly Alazraki does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.


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83 Comments

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omok

"researchers are concerned that this growing trend of non-psychiatrists prescribing antidepressants"
Ah so the problem is not the lethality of the drugs, but the fact that the Psychiatrists union is cut out of the profit?

"Motley Fool contributor Melly Alazraki does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned"
Well, that's pretty obvious, the article's not spinning drugs in a good light.
But there is some information missing here, like "Melly Alazraki has not now, in the past, and will not in the future received any form of compensation from the American Psychiatric Association" And there is strangely enough no information on who funded this study, who conducted the study and what are their allegiances? Why is that information left out? Huh Melly?

August 13 2011 at 11:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hilliaryisfirst

Time magazine had an excellent article on antidepressants. Sorry no link. But the conclusion was that antidepressants are essentially nothing but placebos. That is they don't work unless you really believe that they will. Google it if youre interested.

August 12 2011 at 2:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mholten32

I don't blame the MD's in this drug addicted society of modern day America. That is their training. Most that I know are good people... I always just say they are working with the wrong tools.. They use Drugs and Surgery. Which one of these do you want to use to get you healthier. ....Hopefully you said the right answer which is....Neither one!! Why don't MD's have more training in Lifestyle related issues, nutrition, exercise, etc.. Do you realize most have almost none!! It is a travesty!! No wonder we have a drug addicted society. Of course it doesn't help that our govt. is on the payroll of big Pharma! Why do we take over 80% of all the drugs (pharmaceuticals) in the world and yet we are at the bottom of the chart (of developed countries) as far as health and mortality rates. Obviously the drug thing isn't working!

August 11 2011 at 10:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
defelicep

Geez, since these drugs can cause severe side effects like "violent & suicidal thoughts" wouldn't it just be better to have the person be depressed? You can go just about anywhere and buy ST. Johns Wort...a natural anti-depressant.

August 11 2011 at 5:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mrspelosi

I would think that many people are taking antidepressants more so then ever, due to the plague on the nation otherwise known as the Obama administration.

August 11 2011 at 5:34 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mrspelosi's comment
Jon!

Nope, the depression started from George W. Bush. Nice try but I see through it.

August 12 2011 at 12:58 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
martinsportraits

I took a few SSRI meds for a few months and a trial on an SNRI , The only thing I remember was COMPLETELY LOSING MY SEX DRIVE ..................Needless to say , the stuff ended up in the trash can.....These medications are basically chemical castration!......They should give them to sex offenders !

August 11 2011 at 5:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
JLS

Not everything is fixed with popping a pill. These drugs are a legal way to get happy. They leave you with a destroyed sex drive and unable to get off of them for fear of suicidal thoughts. Being happy in life is getting control over what makes you UNHAPPY and working hard to fix it.

Americans think everything can be fixed by simply popping a pill. And physicians just go along with it. What reasonably thinking person couldn't see this coming?

August 11 2011 at 3:35 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to JLS's comment
tuco60

Sounds like you're an expert. What are YOU on?

August 11 2011 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
blockprod

LENORE BLOCK

This is not a new phenon. - MD's such a PCP's have been prescribing anti-depress. for years - it is helpful to have a psych eval but it is very difficult to find a psychiatrist who takes insurance and then there is often a long wait - the missing piece in this article is that the patient should receive meds and see a therapist b/c this combo. is the best proven course of treatment.

August 11 2011 at 3:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
GH

The title of this article should read : "The Barack Hussein Obama Presidency causes increased prescriptions for anti-depressants". I submit if he loses in 2012 the prescription rate will fall.

August 11 2011 at 2:37 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to GH's comment
Robert M. Davis

Where did the writer of this article go to medicial school? I don't see an MD behind his name. Most recipients of these medications no more need to see a psychiatrist than a patient withStrep Throat needs to see an Infectious dsease specialist. And any medicine that can simultaneously "boost mood:, relieve anxiety, and improve sleep sounds like a miracle drug. Is there any reader out there who wouldn't like to achieve all three of those goals?
Drug adertising on V is a totally separate subject and I am notin favor of it., but why is boosting mood and relieving anxiety a bad thing? Would the world be a better place with more grumpy people?

August 11 2011 at 1:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert M. Davis's comment
senbukan

Did you ever read Brave New World by Huxley? The doctors and drug companies are growing a new breed of "legal" drug addict. Teaching people to take a pill instead of facing and dealing with life is not the answer. And if you think so, I'm afraid you just don't think...............

August 11 2011 at 3:12 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to senbukan's comment
martinsportraits

Right on senbukan , they are also engaging in population control because anyone who has taken these meds will tell you they REMOVE ALL SEX DRIVE!

August 11 2011 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down