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Physician Prescription Patterns for Psychiatric Drugs

Physician Prescription Patterns for Psychiatric Drugs A new study reviews the behavior of physicians when making the decision to prescribe psychiatric drugs.

Investigators, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), sought to learn more about the conditions physicians around the country were treating with psychiatric drugs.

Medications studied included antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs.

According to background information, psychiatric medications are one of the most widely prescribed categories of drugs in the nation; yet few studies have comprehensively examined the types of illnesses being treated with these medications.

In particular, there has been a great deal of interest and some concern about how psychiatric drugs are being prescribed for medical conditions not included in their Food and Drug Administration-approved labeling – or “off-label” — use.

In most instances it is legal and a common practice for physicians to prescribe drugs off-label, even though less may be known about a drug’s risks and benefits for an unapproved indication.

Although this study did not evaluate whether drugs were prescribed for on- or off-label use, the study reveals that in the vast majority of cases physicians are prescribing psychiatric medications for patients with psychiatric conditions.

These medications are also sometimes prescribed to treat other conditions. This is particularly true in the case of anti-anxiety drugs.

“From this study it seems clear that psychiatric medications are for the most part being prescribed for treating people with psychiatric conditions,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D.

“Yet, as clinicians broaden their use of psychiatric medications to a variety of mental illnesses, research and education are needed to ensure that the uses are appropriate.”

The study looked at the prescription patterns for three major types of psychiatric drugs: antipsychotic drugs, antidepressant drugs, and anti-anxiety drugs, but did not evaluate clinical appropriateness per se.

The study found that antipsychotic drugs were prescribed for psychiatric conditions 99 percent of the time, including mood disorders (39 percent), schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders (35 percent), cognitive disorders such as dementia (7.4 percent), anxiety (6 percent), and attention-deficit/conduct-disruptive behavior disorders (6 percent).

In terms of antidepressant drugs, the study found that 93 percent of prescriptions were for psychiatric conditions, primarily mood disorders (65 percent), anxiety (16 percent), schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders (2.6 percent).

Other non-psychiatric diagnoses for which antidepressants were prescribed included headaches (1.1 percent), connective tissue disease (e.g., fibromyalgia) (1 percent), and back problems (0.7 percent).

Although the study found that the majority of prescriptions written for anti-anxiety medication were used to treat psychiatric conditions (72 percent), a significant percentage (28 percent) were used for non-psychiatric diagnoses including anxiety related to medical interventions (6 percent), allergic reactions (4 percent), and back problems (2.5 percent).

The study, conducted by Tami L. Mark, Ph.D. at Thomson Reuters and published in the journal CNS Drugs analyzed data from the 2005 National Disease and Therapeutic Index, a nationally representative survey of about 4,000 U.S. office-based physicians conducted by IMS Health.

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)

Physician Prescription Patterns for Psychiatric Drugs

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Physician Prescription Patterns for Psychiatric Drugs. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 23 Mar 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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