Researchers found that in 2013 nearly 17 percent of adults said they filled one or more prescriptions for antidepressants such as Zoloft; sedatives and sleep drugs, including Xanax and Ambien; or antipsychotics, used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“From a drug safety perspective, I am concerned that so many of these drugs have withdrawal effects and that some of the overwhelming long-term use may reflect drug dependence,” said study co-author Thomas Moore.
“These questions need further investigation,” added Moore, a senior scientist for drug safety and policy at the nonprofit Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Alexandria, Va.
“The use of psychotropic medication has become an issue of increasing concern in the U.S., both due to lack of clarity of the medical target of some psychotropic treatment, as well as the rising costs of health,” said Dr. Shawna Newman, who wasn’t involved in the study. She’s a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“The overwhelming preponderance of prescriptions for psychotropic medications are written by non-psychiatrists,” she said. She noted that a 2014 study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health revealed benzodiazepines — medications such as Xanax, Ativan, Valium — were mostly prescribed by non-psychiatrists, she said.
“Access to psychiatrists and appropriate mental health treatment is a vital issue in U.S. health care,” Newman said.
Moore and a colleague from Risk Sciences International in Ottawa, Canada, used the 2013 U.S. Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to calculate percentages of adults using prescription antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, sedatives, sleep aids and antipsychotics.
Among the 1 in 6 people who reported use of these drugs, 12 percent said they had taken an antidepressant, and 8 percent reported filling a prescription for anxiety medicine, sedatives or sleep aids. Nearly 2 percent had taken antipsychotic drugs, the investigators found.
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