A Nation on Happy Pills: Anti-Depressant Use Nearly Doubles

August 4, 2009

(ChattahBox)—At least 27 million people, or 10 percent of the U.S. population can’t get through the day without a little boost in their serotonin levels, courtesy of a little anti-depressant pill. A new study reveals a startling increase in the number of people taking anti-depressant drugs that’s due to a variety of factors; most notably insufficient insurance coverage for visits with a therapist.

Dr. Mark Olfson of Columbia University, New York and Steven Marcus of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, conducted the study. The two researchers compared the results of the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys done by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, performed in 1996 and again in 2005.

The comprehensive medical surveys showed just six percent of the U.S. population or about 13 million people taking anti-depressant drugs in 1996. Nine years later, more than 10 percent or 27 million people were using anti-depressant drugs.

What’s more, the researches found an increase in the number of prescriptions for anti-depressant medications as well. More than 164 million prescriptions were written in 2008 for anti-depressants, representing about $9.6 billion in sales in just the U.S. alone.

Additionally, the researchers discovered that once patients are prescribed anti-depressants they are more likely to be prescribed stronger anti-psychotic medications. Across the board, doctors were more likely to write a prescription to treat depression, instead of recommending counseling.

One of the major reasons for the move away from therapy to taking pills is the reduced insurance coverage and out-of-pocket costs for counseling. Although studies show that therapy is just as effective, if not more so, than drugs, taking a pill is a cheaper and easier fix.

The stigma attached to receiving psychiatric counseling may also be keeping some depression sufferers away from therapy, opting instead for mundane anti-depressant drugs.

The researchers noted that despite a strong black box warning issued by the FDA on the dangers of prescribing anti-depressants for children and teens, the rise in prescriptions continues.

The study is available in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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