More than 10 percent of all adult Americans use antidepressants, but to add to that now-not-so-surprising fact, they’re prescribed for more than just depression. A study showed approximately 45 percent of all antidepressants are prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, and pain.
A Canadian study published this Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported almost three out of ten antidepressants prescribed in Quebec, Canada between the years 2006 and 2015 were under conditions unapproved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The reason the FDA has not approved this medicine for conditions different than depression is a simple financial one. It’s a very costly process to have the agency evaluate the new indication for a certain drug. But the common practice of recommending off-label meds is legal and apparently wide spread, possibly much more than the findings of the Canadian study.
These prescriptions were being written when patients complained of problems remotely resembling depression. Practitioners treated insomnia, pain, migraines and menopausal symptoms such as attention deficit, hyperactivity and digestive system problems, all with antidepressants. Anxiety and panic disorders pushed the prescriptions for reasons other than depression to a remarkable 45 percent.
These conditions are considered variants of depression and a significant range of antidepressant medicine has been confirmed safe and effective for treating them. But the study’s authors say it’s not enough for physicians to send off patients having symptoms of generalized distress with an antidepressant remedy.
The authors also conclude there is a need to study carefully the effectiveness and safety of using this medicine for more than just depression.
The study’s design was based on a pop-up query addressed to 158 physicians whose electronic medical record showed antidepressants prescriptions. The query asked what condition prompted their decision.
Out of 101,759 prescriptions, 55.2% were for depression, 18.5% were for anxiety, and the rest was covered by conditions like insomnia, pain, panic, Fibromyalgia, OCD disorder, sexual dysfunctions, nicotine dependence, and digestive system disorders.
In a 2011 study, researchers noted that 56 percent of antidepressants given throughout a twelve years period leading to the year 2007, were not prescribed by psychiatrists.
Mark Olfson, Columbia University psychiatrist and one of the authors of the 2011 study suggested an antidepressant is a much safer bet than heart attacking or dependency causing medicine.
Image courtesy of Carsten Schertzer