Mental Health Prescriptions on the Rise--May 2009

If pharmacists are finding that they are filling more prescriptions for mental health medications, newly reported research may help explain why.

Despite recent market reports that drug sales and dispensing volumes slowed dramatically last year, prescriptions for mental health medications showed dramatic growth in the decade leading up to this downturn, according to newly published research.

In an analysis of US mental health care trends, researchers have found that the number of seniors prescribed psychotropic drugs doubled over the period 1996- 2006. Overall, 73% more adults and 50% more children are using these medications, according to the study. One in 10 adults and 1 in 20 children took at least 1 prescription for mental health in 2006.

For the elderly, the researchers attribute increased prescribing to a greater availability of medications to treat illnesses like Alzheimer's disease and improved access to prescription drugs through Medicare reforms like Part D. Children's access to mental health services has increased as well, through expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Other factors driving the increase in prescriptions, the researchers note, include greater familiarity with mental health medications among primary care physicians and wider availability of lower-cost drugs.

The research was reported in the May/June 2009 issue of Health Affairs devoted to the theme—Mental Health Care: Better, Not Best. Another study appearing in the journal notes that per-capita spending for mental health care increased by >30% over the same 10-year period, with nearly all of the increase attributed to the costs of psychiatric medications. Drugs accounted for 51% of mental health care costs in 2006, whereas drugs accounted for 26% of spending for all other health care costs.

Among the other findings, the number of children diagnosed and treated for mental health conditions doubled during the decade 1996-2006. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening adolescents aged 12 to 18 for clinical depression when appropriate systems are in place to ensure adequate diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care.

For other articles in this issue, see:

Seasonal Flu Influx Out of Season

Hospitals Expanding More into Retail Clinics

Pharma Giant Offers Free Meds

Innovators in Pharmacy: Parata Goes GREEN