Sales of antidepressants have seen a surge in recent years. According to a new study conducted in Canada, half of prescriptions are in fact given for conditions other than depression.
The study considered 101,759 antidepressant prescriptions given by approximately 160 primary doctors to almost 20,000 patients in Quebec over 10 years. The findings showed that only 55 percent of them were given for depression. The list of conditions antidepressants were used to treat includes chronic pain, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, premenstrual syndrome, urinary problems, bulimia, fibromyalgia, anxiety, panic disorders, migraine, and others.
Around two thirds of prescriptions given for conditions aside from depression were off-label indications, which means the antidepressants prescribed were not approved by regulatory bodies in the industry to treat that condition.
According to some scientists, the results are worrying. What concerned experts in the field is that the drugs are prescribed for conditions other than depression although there is no proof that they are effective.
However, others, such as Dr. Peter Kramer from Brown University in Providence, R.I., a depression expert who was not involved in the study, believe that antidepressants have more potential uses besides treating depression. According to Kramer, whether antidepressants reverse depression or they act in a general way to protect nerve cells, it is still to be determined. He recalled the use of Trazodone, a sedating antidepressant, to treat insomnia in drug addicts and that of tricyclic antidepressants in low doses to treat chronic pain.
According to lead author Jenna Wong, off-label use was due to tradition within the medical community, rather than scientific knowledge. Additionally, the phenomenon may be caused by a lack of other available treatment, Wong added. However, both sides agree that more research should be conducted on the off-label prescription by doctors. Moreover, Kramer stressed that, in light of the findings, antidepressant prescriptions are not a good indicator of the disease, given that half the prescriptions are not used to treat depression.
Currently 11 percent of American teens and adults take antidepressants. Overall, the use of antidepressants increased by nearly 400 percent between 1998-1994 and 2005-2008. Researchers have suspected the sharp rise was due to their being prescribed for off-label conditions.
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