The use of mental health drugs has increased 22 percent among Americans since 2001, with 20 percent of adults now taking at least one medication for anxiety or depression, according to a report produced by a major prescription drug benefits manager.
The new report from Medco Health Solutions Inc. said women were more than twice as likely as men to take drugs to treat a psychiatric or behavioral condition. Based on an analysis of prescription claims filed by some 2.5 million Americans between 2001 and 2010, the report also said more than 25 percent of adult women compared to 15 percent of men were on some kind of mental health drug in 2010.
“Women ages 45 and older showed the highest use of these drugs overall,” the report stated. “Yet surprisingly, it was younger men (ages 20 to 44) who experienced the greatest increase in their numbers, rising 43 percent from 2001 to 2010.”
The analysis also found that drug use trends among children were opposite those of adults, with more prescriptions being written for boys than girls, especially for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But that changed once they were older, with women making more use of ADHD drugs than men.
The Medco analysis revealed, for example, that the number of women on ADHD drugs last year was 2.5 times higher than it was in 2001, with the “most striking jump” being a 264 percent increase over 10 years among 20- to 44-year-olds.
“Over the past decade, there has been a significant uptick in the use of medications to treat a variety of mental health problems; what is not as clear is if more people - especially women, are actually developing psychological disorders that require treatment, or if they are more willing to seek out help and clinicians are better at diagnosing these conditions than they once were,” said psychiatrist David Muzina, a national practice leader of the Medco Neuroscience Therapeutic Resource Center. “Women are generally more frequent users of healthcare, but they may also be bearing the emotional brunt of a decade that started with the horror of 9/11 and since has seen several wars and economic turmoil.”
The Medco report contained some good news. Although the number of children taking mental health prescriptions overall has increased over the past 10 years, the use of antidepressants has dropped substantially since 2004, when the FDA warned of suicide risks associated with certain behavioral drugs. The use of ADHD drugs among children has also been on the decline since 2005, according to Medco.
The company’s analysis also found that the highest use of psychiatric and behavioral prescriptions was in the “diabetes belt” states of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky, where 23 percent of adults take at least one drug. The report noted that diabetes is often associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety.
The area with the lowest rate of prescriptions, meanwhile, was found to be in the upper Midwest states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, where less than 15 percent of people were on medications.