An alarming surge in the usage and cost of antidepressants in 2020 has been recorded by researchers from the University of Huddersfield.
Researchers conducted a study to investigate the trends in prescriptions and costs of various antidepressants in England during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the analysis, the scientists have said that it is vital for the country‘s mental health interventions to create strategies optimising the use of antidepressants.
The open-access study, ‘Surging trends in prescriptions and costs of antidepressants in England amid COVID-19′, has been published by the international DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Sharp increase in prescription drugs dispensed
The researchers discovered that the total number of antidepressant prescription drugs dispensed during 2020 had increased by four million items since 2019, costing NHS England £139 million more than in the previous year.
They attributed this to the active pharmaceutical ingredient shortages witnessed during COVID-19, coupled with a significantly higher cost of generic drugs during the pandemic; with just one product alone, SSRI antidepressant drug ‘sertraline’, accounting for most of the additional costs.
The University of Huddersfield’s Dr Syed Shahzad Hasan, one of the co-authors of the study, acknowledged that an increase in the number of prescriptions was expected because of the pandemic, but said that the sharp rise in antidepressant prescription costs was a potential cause for concern and highlighted the urgent need for mental health interventions in the country and strategies to optimise the use of antidepressants.
The study also observes a meta-analysis of 100,000 patients using antidepressants, which concluded that the risk of suicide doubled in children and adolescents.
Dr Hamid Merchant, from the University of Huddersfield, said: “These findings are particularly important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Observational data suggest that young adults, up to 25 years of age, were impacted by the mental health issues during the pandemic, and hence, were more likely to use antidepressants.”
The researchers recommend that further studies need to be carried out to assess the age distribution of antidepressant prescriptions, particularly focusing on adolescents and young adults who are at a higher risk of experiencing life-threatening adverse effects.
“It is, therefore, important to optimise the safe use of antidepressants, particularly in young adults,” added Dr Merchant.
“Not only to help with mental health but also in preventing the associated side-effects that may further increase the morbidity and mortality associated with depression in younger adults.”