The largest annual rise in prescriptions was seen in antidepressants according to figures published this week by the NHS Information Centre. 46.7 million prescriptions for antidepressants were dispensed in 2011, a rise of 3.9 million on 2010. This equates to a rise of 9.1% in the 12 month period, which is similar to that seen in the previous year.
The report includes details of all prescriptions dispensed in England and has information relating to a range of different health conditions (e.g. ADHD, diabetes and cardiovascular disease).
The report found that total prescription numbers are going up, but the total cost to the NHS is falling. Probably because more drugs are now ‘out of patent’ and are being prescribed in cheaper generic forms.
However, the cost of antidepressant prescribing rose dramatically from the previous year. 2011 saw a 22.6% increase on the 2010 figures, which contrasts with a fall in cost that had been measured in the two previous years.
Costs vary across individual antidepressants. Here are some highlights of the changes in cost:
- Prescriptions items for sertraline, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) not available as a generic and sold under the brand name Lustral, rose by 0.7m (23.2%) in 2011. Costs rose by £39.2m (over 500%).
- Prescriptions for fluoxetine, another SSRI available as a generic and sold under the brand name Prozac, increased by 0.1m (15.9%). Costs to the NHS fell by £6.4m (30.4%)
- Prescriptions for duloxetine, a newer type of antidepressant available as a generic and sold under the brand name Cymbalta, increased by 28.3% and costs rose by £4.8m (28.3%).
- Prescriptions for nortriptyline, available as a generic and under the brand name Allegron an older type of antidepressant called a tricyclic, rose by 21.6% and costs by £2.1m (59.9%).
This report doesn’t tell us why antidepressant prescriptions have gone up. It may be a result of the current economic downturn leading to increased numbers of depressed and anxious people, or it may simply be that other talking treatments are unavailable and people are turning to drug treatments instead.
Of course, antidepressants are now used to treat a wide variety of health conditions, including anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, serious phobias, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, although depression remains the main condition for which the drugs are prescribed.
Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community: England, Statistics for 2001 to 2011 (PDF). NHS Information Centre, 31 Jul 2012.