In a new study published in JAMA, researchers analysed 10 years of electronic medical records, revealing that around 50% of people in the U.S. who take antidepressants have not been diagnosed with depression.
The decade of antidepressant prescription records contained data on more than 100,000 prescriptions written by approximately 160 doctors for nearly 20,000 patients. In that data, researchers discovered that only 55% of the prescriptions were written for depression. The other 45 percent were written for anxiety (18.5%), insomnia (10%), pain (6 %), and panic disorders (4%). The rest were for a number of other disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), digestive disorders, eating disorders, migraine and vasomotor menopause symptoms.
Prescribing “off label” is nothing new. Doctors often recommend medication for patients that are not diagnosed with the problem those drugs are specifically designed to treat. More importantly, those patients are being given medications for off-label use that has not been approved by a drug regulatory agency. Many of these off-label uses are not supported by any scientific data.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon,” author Jenna Wong said. “We had heard that in the scientific community there has been a suspicion among doctors that physicians are commonly prescribing antidepressants for uses other than depression. We also found that for the major classes of antidepressants, there was an increasing prescribing trend over time.”
The authors also note that this revelation prevents researchers from being able to ascertain whether there is an increase in the amount of antidepressants prescribed for depression. For patients, however, these findings reveal a far more dangerous conclusion, as taking off-label antidepressants can mean succumbing to additional side-effects. “I can’t make a statement to say that for sure they don’t work or that they are exposing patients to health risks but there’s the possibility that they could be causing adverse health effects or that they may not be effective for the conditions,” Wong added. “Without any scientific evidence, it’s hard to be able to say.”
Last year, evidence-based medical researcher Peter Gotszche put forward an argument that all psychiatric drugs should be discontinued as they kill 500,000 people a year. Another study published in the BMJ in January 2016 found that antidepressants doubled the risk of suicide in people under the age of 18.
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