A new report from researchers analyzing psychiatric drug use in the U.S. in 2013 has added to already existing concerns that older Americans are being overdrugged.
It also suggests that many Americans may be taking psychiatric drugs because they have become drug dependent, or are not discontinuing the drugs because of withdrawal symptoms.
One in six U.S. adults aged 18 to 85 reported taking an antidepressant, an antipsychotic, an anti-anxiety drug or sleeping pills in 2013, according to the study, published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.
“I follow this area, so I knew the numbers would be high,” said Thomas J. Moore, a researcher at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices and the lead author of the analysis. “But in some populations, the rates are extraordinary.”
For example, among adults 60 to 85 years old, one in four was taking at least one psychiatric drug. That rate (25.1%) is more than 2½ times higher than the rate (9%) for adults 18 to 30 years old.
These 2013 statistics cover a period of time shortly after a 2011 investigation by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which found that nursing homes were giving many elderly residents powerful antipsychotic drugs that put their lives at risk, just to sedate them and make them more manageable.
The new study also found that nearly 85% of those taking psychiatric drugs had been taking them long term, having filled three or more prescriptions in 2013 or having taken the drug since 2011. This long term use also concerned researchers.
“To discover that eight in 10 adults who have taken psychiatric drugs are using them long term raises safety concerns, given that there’s reason to believe some of this continued use is due to dependence and withdrawal symptoms,” said Moore.
Warning: Anyone wishing to discontinue a psychiatric drug is cautioned to do so only under the supervision of a competent medical doctor because of potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
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