One in 6 US Adults Report Taking Psychiatric Drugs

One in 6 US Adults Report Taking Psychiatric Drugs

By Victoria Kim 12/15/16

Zoloft and Celexa were listed as the most commonly used psychiatric drugs in a recent report.

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various types of falling pills

One in six Americans 18 and older take at least one psychiatric drug, according to a new report published Monday (Dec. 12) in JAMA Internal Medicine

The report drew from 2013 government survey data on about 37,421 respondents. Though the analysis was limited to data from that single year, it found that more than eight in 10 people reported long-term use—defined as continuing a prescription that began in 2011 or earlier, or filling three or more prescriptions in 2013.

The most commonly used psychiatric drugs were antidepressants like Zoloft and Celexa, while anti-anxiety and sleep meds like Xanax and Ambien were also very popular. 

This isn’t the first time the issue of Americans’ increasing reliance on psychiatric meds has been brought up. In August 2013, Richard Friedman, MD, said in the New York Times that “fully 1 in 5 Americans take at least one psychiatric medication” and asked whether there is enough innovation in developing newer, better drugs of this kind.

Back in the June 2012 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology journal, writer Brendan L. Smith questioned the efficacy of qualifying so many patients to be prescribed these drugs. “Writing a prescription to treat a mental health disorder is easy, but it may not always be the safest or most effective route for patients,” wrote Smith.

The new report "reflects a growing acceptance of and reliance on prescription medications" to manage common emotional issues, said Dr. Mark Olfson, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University.

That isn't to suggest that psychiatric drugs are ineffective or harmful across the board. (See Maia Szalavitz’s article Zoloft Put the Pleasure in My Sobriety.)

In his article, Smith delves into the history that gave rise to the booming billion-dollar psychiatric drug industry, beginning with the FDA’s approval of Prozac in 1987. According to Smith, this allowed antidepressant use in the U.S. to quadruple and become one of the top prescribed drugs, aside from analgesics (for pain) and drugs to regulate cholesterol.

“Psychotropic drugs are valuable tools in treating many mental health disorders,” wrote Smith, “but inappropriate prescribing can cause serious harm.”

Responding to the new report, Olfson told the New York Times that prescribers should be more mindful of the drugs' potential risks, as "these are not benign drugs." 

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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