Just half of prescriptions for antidepressants in North America are actually for patients suffering depression, a new study has warned.
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The drugs are increasingly being prescribed to people suffering migraine, insomnia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, as well as women going through the menopause. This, experts say, is behind the surge in antidepressant use over the last two decades.
And they warn, the drugs are not approved for use to treat many of the conditions doctors are prescribing them for.
In the new study, Dr Jenna Wony, from McGill University and her team analyzed treatment indications for antidepressants and assessed trends in prescribing the drugs for depression.
The authors wrote: "The findings indicate that the mere presence of an antidepressant prescription is a poor proxy for depression treatment, and they highlight the need to evaluate the evidence supporting off-label antidepressant use."
Researchers used data from an electronic medical record and prescribing system that has been used by doctors in two major urban centers of Quebec, Canada.
They focused on prescriptions written for adults between January 2006 and September 2015
, for all antidepressants except monoamine oxidase inhibitors
Doctors taking part had to document at least one treatment indication per prescription, using a drop-down menu containing a list of conditions.
During the time of the study, 101,759 prescriptions for antidepressants were written by 158 doctors for 19,734 patients.
Of those, the researchers discovered, just 55 percent were indicated for depression.
Doctors also prescribed the drugs for anxiety disorders (18.5 percent), insomnia (10 percent), pain (six percent) and panic disorders (four percent).
For 29 percent of all antidepressant prescriptions, doctors prescribed a drug for an off-label indication, especially for insomnia and pain.
Doctors also prescribed antidepressant for conditions including migraine, vasomotor symptoms of menopause, ADHD and digestive system disorders. ■