Therapeutic drug monitoring of antidepressants: cost implications and relevance to clinical practice

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1999 Aug;37(2):147-65. doi: 10.2165/00003088-199937020-00004.


Despite evidence to support its potential benefit in clinical practice, therapeutic drug monitoring (TDM) is under-utilised and underdeveloped in the field of psychiatry. In antidepressant pharmacotherapy drug dose is emphasised as the critical treatment variable. However, dose in, and of, itself can be a strikingly misleading predictor of drug concentration and, hence, treatment effect. For antidepressant drugs, plasma concentrations at a given dose have been shown to vary in excess of 40-fold. The clinical relevance of this variability is that at a standard antidepressant dosage only some patients will have tissue drug concentrations associated with an optimal response whereas others will have either low, ineffective drug concentrations or unnecessarily high concentrations which may be poorly tolerated. Among clinicians and healthcare agencies there is an under-appreciation of the degree of pharmacokinetic variability found in patients and how that might impact on the patients response to pharmacotherapy. Hence there is a perception that TDM is an unnecessary, complicated and costly procedure. This is actually unfounded. There are data to suggest that TDM can favourably affect the outcome of antidepressant treatment by providing a rational alternative to the inherently slower, trial and error practice of dosage titration based on clinical response. It is unlikely that TDM will become a standard of care for all antidepressant agents and all patients. Therefore the question becomes for which antidepressant agents, for which patients and under what circumstances, is TDM more cost-effective than traditional dose titration. The use of TDM to optimise the efficient use of selected antidepressant agents could potentially free up healthcare resources to fund other equally deserving treatments. This article provides a discussion of the major classes of antidepressant drugs with regard to their pharmacological features that predict the utility of TDM in clinical practice. Recommendations are made for the practical application of TDM and the directions for further research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / classification
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Monitoring / economics
  • Drug Monitoring / methods
  • Drug Monitoring / standards
  • Drug Monitoring / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Pharmacogenetics


  • Antidepressive Agents