Background: Psychotropic medication prescribing for children and adolescents rose significantly between 2000 and 2002, including antidepressant prescribing. In 2003, the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) advised against using venlafaxine or any selective serotonin receptor inhibitor (SSRI), with the exception of fluoxetine, for childhood and adolescent depression. The aim of this study was to compare the prevalence and incidence of children and adolescents who were prescribed antidepressants in UK primary care, before and after the CSM advice on antidepressant prescribing. We also compared paediatric antidepressant prescribing trends from Mediplus data with national antidepressant prescribing trends in England from the Prescription Pricing Authority (PPA).
Methods: The Disease Analyzer-Mediplus database contains anonymised primary care records for about 3 million patients. Eligible patients were aged <or=18 years and received >or=1 antidepressant prescription between 2000 and 2004. Antidepressants were grouped according to the CSM advice and the British National Formulary. Prevalence and incidence were calculated. The prevalences of 2000, 2002 and 2004 were compared using a Chi-squared test. PPA data on antidepressant prescribing rates were compared with paediatric antidepressant prescribing rates from Mediplus.
Results: 5,718 children and adolescents received a total of 25,542 prescriptions between 2000 and 2004. The median number of prescriptions per patient was two (interquartile range 1-5). Common indications included depression and anxiety. Antidepressant prevalence increased from 2000 to 2002 (from 5.4 to 6.6 patients per 1,000 people), with a rise in the number of patients prescribed venlafaxine and SSRIs. However, between 2002 and 2004 there was a decrease in antidepressant prevalence (from 6.6 to 5.7 per 1,000). The prevalence of CSM-contraindicated antidepressants (citalopram, escitalopram, fluvoxamine, paroxetine, sertraline and venlafaxine) declined by a third (from 3.1 to 2.0 per 1,000), but there was no change in fluoxetine prevalence (from 2.1 to 2.3 per 1,000). The number of patients prescribed tricyclic antidepressants dropped marginally (from 2.0 to 1.7 per 1,000). Incidences followed the same trends as the prevalences, but there was a 48% reduction in the incidence of CSM-contraindicated antidepressants between 2002 and 2004. National antidepressant prescribing trends increased; paediatric prescribing trends were similar to national trends between 2000 and 2003; however, there was a 27% reduction in the paediatric prescribing rate of CSM-contraindicated antidepressants between 2002 and 2004.
Conclusion: Since 2003, fewer children and adolescents have been prescribed antidepressants in primary care. However, fluoxetine and non-SSRI antidepressant prevalences have not risen, implying that they are not prescribed as alternative treatments. This study shows that the CSM advice has had a significant effect in reversing the rising prevalence of antidepressant prescribing to children and adolescents in primary care.