Stunning data released by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality show that spending on prescription drugs to treat depression, anxiety, pain, schizophrenia and other conditions climbed from $7.9 billion in 1997 to $20 billion in 2004.

The findings come from a component of a national longitudinal survey called the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) that collects detailed information on the health services that Americans use, how frequently they use them, the cost of these services, and how they are paid.

The medication use data was captured from household survey questions on total pharmaceutical expenditures, total number of purchases, total number of people with a purchase, and average price per purchase for the therapeutic class of prescribed psychotherapeutic agents.

The sharpest increase was for antipsychotic agents, medications used to manage schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other psychoses. They saw an increase from $1.3 billion to $4.1 billion from 1997 to 2004.

Spending for central nervous system stimulants to treat pain and control seizures, nearly tripled over the same time period, increasing from $0.6 billion to $1.7 billion.

Furthermore, spending on antidepressants more than doubled from 1997 to 2004, increasing from $5.1 billion to $12.1 billion, as did expenditures for anxiolytics, sedatives, and hypnotics for anxiety and sleep disorders. Spending for these drugs rose from $.9 billion to $2.1 billion.

During the same time period, overall prescriptions for psychotherapeutic drugs increased from 141.9 million to 244.3 million; the number of people prescribed at least one such drug rose from 21 million to 32.6 million; and the average price per purchase increased from $55.80 to $82.00.

AHRQ, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, works to improve the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of health care in the United States.

For more information on this AHRQ News and Numbers see Trends in the Use and Expenditures for the Therapeutic Class Prescribed Psychotherapeutic Agents and All Subclasses, 1997 and 2004.

Source: AHRQ