Dispensing of antidepressants and sedatives in the New York City and Washington, D.C., areas peaked, not in the weeks following September 11, but in the two weeks preceding Christmas and the start of the new year. The holiday season, it seems, may have been more distressing than the weeks following the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history.
Data provided to Psychiatric News by NDCHealth, an independent firm that tracks and analyzes prescription drug sales and marketing activity, show that for the year-long period from May 25, 2001, to May 24, 2002, dispensing of prescription antidepressants and sedative medications—including benzodiazepines and other antianxiety drugs, as well as nonbarbiturate sedative/hypnotics—followed a pattern similar to that of the three previous years.
In general, prescriptions increased over the study period, with cyclical fluctuations that follow established trends in antidepressant and sedative prescribing.
The number of prescriptions dispensed, tracked on a weekly basis, rose through the fall and peaked in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Following the new year, dispensing of both antidepressants and sedatives leveled off at a rate slightly higher than for the same period one year earlier (see charts at right).
Each week of data representing a low point of dispensing represented a week containing a holiday.
In the New York metropolitan area, the total number of antidepressant prescriptions dispensed increased 5.6 percent overall from May 2001 to May 2002. That is a small increase compared with the 18 percent growth in prescriptions for all central nervous system medications in the North American market for the same period, according to IMSHealth, an international analysis firm that tracks global prescription data and analyzes the data for both industry and government. Antidepressants were the largest component of that 18 percent increase, analysts at IMSHealth told Psychiatric News, increasing 21.7 percent during the specific yearlong period analyzed.
While the increase in dispensing in the New York City area may have been smaller than the national average, the trend mirrored the national data.
Dispensing of sedative prescriptions in the New York region also increased over the period, rising 10.9 percent. This closely matched the national increase of 11 percent and, again, followed a trend that was similar to that of the rest of the nation.
Dispensing of antidepressants in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area increased from May 2001 to May 2002 by 10.65 percent, nearly twice the rate of growth in New York, yet still below the national average of 18 percent. The same trend in dispensing was evident in the D.C. area as seen in the New York area. Dispensing increased through fall 2001, then leveled off in the spring.
Prescriptions for sedatives in the D.C. metropolitan area rose 11.68 percent for the year-long period analyzed, very close to the national average. Interestingly, while antidepressant prescribing in the D.C. area increased at twice the rate for New York City, the increase in prescribing of sedatives was the same.
Analysts at both NDCHealth and IMS Health agreed that the events of September 11 did not significantly impact dispensing trends for either antidepressants or sedatives. The trends seen in their data closely follow previous years’ trends, with increase in the fall, leading up to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons.
"The holidays, with inherent stressors of schedule demands, financial demands, interactions with relatives during holiday gatherings—that may or may not be good—all of these typically interact and associate with an increase in dispensing of antianxiety and sleeping medications in particular," said Jason Patrick, an independent analyst who follows the psychotropic markets. "Of note in these particular data is the relatively low increase in dispensing of antidepressants in New York City. What that really says is anyone’s guess at this point," he told Psychiatric News.
However, the data overall do not point to any significant increase in physician prescribing for depression or anxiety disorders following September 11, the analysts agreed. That would suggest that if depression or anxiety as disorders did increase, they were treated with interventions other than medication. ▪