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Trends in the long-term prescribing of antidepressant medicines

Man smoking
Published: September 2019

Using patient-level primary care data to estimate the extent to which antidepressant medicines are prescribed to people continuously for long periods of time.

Aim

This descriptive research used patient-level primary care data to estimate the extent to which antidepressant medicines are prescribed to people continuously for long periods of time. The study also drew on survey data and data on the number of prescriptions dispensed.

Findings

  • The number of antidepressant prescriptions dispensed each year in England doubled between 2008 and 2018
  • Survey data show that the proportion of adults reporting use of antidepressants in the past year increased in the 1990s, and again between 2007 and 2014
  • The average length of time that antidepressants are continuously prescribed to people for has increased over time.
  • Some types of antidepressants (for example, tricyclics and other antidepressants) tend to be prescribed for longer periods than other types (such as SSRIs).
  • In 2014, one in twelve prescribing periods for tricyclics and other antidepressants lasted for three years or more

Methods

The analyses in this report are descriptive and show the overall prevalence of long-term prescribing in each year.

We used a sample of around 50,000 patients prescribed at least one antidepressant medicine between 2000 and 2017. This was drawn from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD). The CPRD contains data about prescriptions issued by GPs (including the length and size of prescription) and characteristics of the patients prescribed to (such as their age, sex, and area where they live). Medicines were grouped for analysis into: tricyclics, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and other ADMs. The length of individual prescriptions and continuous prescribing periods were derived using information on consultation dates, the quantity of tablets prescribed, and the numeric daily dose.

This was independent research commissioned and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research Consortium (PHRC) Policy Research Programme (PHPEHF50/14). The views expressed in the publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. Information about the wider programme of the PHRC is available from http://phrc.lshtm.ac.uk/

Download the report