Study finds alarming rise in usage and costs of antidepressants

RESEARCHERS at the University of Huddersfield have warned there is an urgent need for the country’s mental health interventions to create strategies optimising the use of antidepressants after conducting a study which has highlighted an alarming rise in relation to usage and costs.

The open-access study, published by the international DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, is entitled ‘Surging trends in prescriptions and costs of antidepressants in England amid COVID-19‘ and has investigated the trends in prescriptions and costs of various antidepressants in England during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers discovered that the total number of antidepressant prescriptions drugs dispensed during 2020 had increased by four million items since 2019 costing NHS England £139 million more than in the previous year.

“These findings are particularly important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Observational data suggest that young adults, up to 25 years of age, were impacted by the mental health issues during the pandemic, and hence, were more likely to use antidepressants. It is, therefore, important to optimise the safe use of antidepressants, particularly in young adults. Not only to help with mental health but also in preventing the associated side-effects that may further increase the morbidity and mortality associated with depression in younger adults.”

Dr Hamid Merchant

This is attributed to the active pharmaceutical ingredient shortages witnessed during COVID19 coupled with a significantly higher cost of generic drugs during the pandemic, with just one product alone sertraline, an SSRI antidepressant drug, accounting for a majority of the additional costs.

While an increase in the number of prescriptions had been predicted because of the pandemic, said the University’s Dr Syed Shahzad Hasan, one of the co-authors of the study, it was the sharp rise in antidepressant prescription costs which was a potential cause for concern and highlighted the urgent need for mental health interventions in the country and strategies to optimise the use of antidepressants.

The study also observes a meta-analysis of 100,000 patients using antidepressants which concluded that the risk of suicide doubled in children and adolescents.

“These findings are particularly important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Hamid Merchant from the University. “Observational data suggest that young adults, up to 25 years of age, were impacted by the mental health issues during the pandemic, and hence, were more likely to use antidepressants.”

Recommendations

The research recommends that further studies are needed to assess the age distribution of antidepressant prescriptions particularly focusing on adolescents and young adults who are at a higher risk of experiencing life-threatening adverse effects.

“It is, therefore, important to optimise the safe use of antidepressants, particularly in young adults,” added Dr Merchant. “Not only to help with mental health but also in preventing the associated side-effects that may further increase the morbidity and mortality associated with depression in younger adults.”

The paper is co-authored by Shahad A. Rabeea, Dr Hamid A. Merchant & Dr Syed Shahzad Hasan from the University’s Department of Pharmacy in the School of Applied Sciences, Muhammad Umair Khan from the Department of Pharmacy Practice at Pakistan’s Ziauddin University and Chia Siang Know from the International Medical University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The study originated as part of a University Clinical Pharmacy Practice Masters’ degree student project and it was when Dr Hamid Merchant and Dr Syed Shahzad Hasan noticed the results and preliminary findings that they decided to investigate the matter further.

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