Sunday, August 9, 2009

Antidepressant Use Doubles in Last 10 Years

A recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry (Vol. 66, No. 8, August, 2009) reported that the use of antidepressant drugs in the United States nearly doubled between 1996 and 2005. The rate of antidepressant treatment increased from 5.84% in 1996 to 10.12% in 2005. This translates to 13.3 million persons taking antidepressant medications in 1996 and 27 million U.S. citizens taking antidepressant drugs in 2005. That means that over 10% of our population is currently being treated with antidepressant medications. In 2008, more than 164 million antidepressant prescriptions were written in the U.S. This amounts to $9.6 billion in sales for Big Pharma.

These numbers are depressing (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). Why did this rise in the use of antidepressants occur and are we better off for it?

The main reason the use of antidepressants more than doubled over the last ten years was due to the advertising ability of Big Pharma. Between 1999 and 2005 Big Pharma increased direct-to-consumer advertising for antidepressants over four-fold. In 1999, Big Pharma spent $32 million on direct-to-consumer advertising of antidepressants. By 2005, Big Pharma spent $122 million promoting antidepressants.

I have lectured to doctors for years about the perils of direct-to-consumer advertising. Studies have clearly shown the power of advertising drugs directly to consumers as the sales of medications increase in almost direct proportion to the numbers of dollars used in the advertising campaigns. The sales for the discredited cholesterol-lowering medications Zetia and Vytroin serve as a perfect example. In Canada, where direct-to-consumer advertising is not allowed, prescriptions for Zetia rose from 0.2% in 2003 to 3.4% in 2006. During that same time, in the U.S., sales of Zetia increased from 0.1% to 15.2%. Zetia and Vytorin were recently shown to be ineffective at preventing or even halting the progression of heart disease in the Enhance study. More information on this can be found in my newest book, Drugs That Don’t Work and Natural Therapies That Do, 2nd Edition.

Since antidepressant drug use has more than doubled over the last 10 years, are we better off? (Stop laughing at that question.) We have more suicides, more anxiety, and more depression despite the rapid increase of these medications. There is absolutely no data supporting the widespread use of these medications. In fact, studies have failed to show this class of medications is superior to exercise, psychotherapy or placebo. More information about this can be found in my book.

In this time of budget crises and health care reform, we need real reformers who can critically look at the data and speak the truth. Big Pharma’s strangle hold on conventional medicine and our government is the force causing health care costs to be so high. Until we wake up and deal with this, health care reform will not be realized.


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