Background: Italy is reported to have a relatively low consumption of antidepressants. This is probably due to the fact that until 2000 antidepressants were reimbursed with some restrictions.
Aim: To describe the pattern of use of antidepressants in primary care in Italy, after admission of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for reimbursement without restrictions.
Methods: We collected prescription data of antidepressants (ATC code: N06) reimbursed between January 1999 and March 2002 from three local health authorities in Emilia Romagna. Then, we calculated the prevalence of use for the different therapeutic classes of antidepressants, by age and gender. Moreover, after selecting a cohort of incident adult patients to follow for 6 months after the first prescription, we analysed the continuity, the average daily doses and the average duration of treatment.
Results: Out of 1000 subjects, 78 received at least one prescription of antidepressants in 1 year. The prevalence of use increased with age from 43 to 136/1000. Women used antidepressants more frequently than men, with a ratio varying from 1.6 to 2, depending on age. SSRIs were the most used drugs (63%), and their prevalence of use diminished with age; on the contrary, use of mianserine and trazodone increased with age, and that of the other antidepressants did not vary. About 60% of the subjects received occasional prescriptions. Continuous treatment was more frequent with SSRIs and in subjects older than 34 years. Daily doses were higher in patients receiving newer drugs (0.9-1 DDD per day), and lower in patients receiving the older agents (0.3-0.4 DDD per day). The average daily doses were usually lower than those recommended for the treatment of the major depression, especially for tricyclics, trazodone and reboxetine. Overall, doses were within the recommended range in about 75% of recipients of newer antidepressants (i.e., SSRIs, venlafaxine, mirtazapine and reboxetine), and in less than 30% of recipients of older drugs (i.e., tricyclics, trazodone and mianserine). In 59% of subjects receiving continuous treatment, the duration of the therapeutic course was at least 6 months.
Conclusions: We found a high prevalence of use of antidepressants in primary care with a frequency of occasional use higher than in other countries. Only rarely were doses and duration of treatment consistent with recommendations for treatment of depression. Recipients of newer drugs received doses consistent with a use for major depression more frequently than others; however, rates of 6 month duration did not differ among drug classes.