Background: In 2003, the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) advised against treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) other than fluoxetine in children, due to a possible increased risk of suicidal behaviour. This study examined the effects of this safety warning on general practitioners' depression diagnosing and prescription behaviour in children.
Methods and findings: We identified a cohort of 1,502,753 children (<18 y; registered with GP for >6 m) in The Health Improvement Network (THIN) UK primary care database. Trends in incidence of depression diagnoses, symptoms and antidepressant prescribing were examined 1995-2009, accounting for deprivation, age and gender. We used segmented regression analysis to assess changes in prescription rates. Overall, 45,723 (3%) children had ≥ 1 depression-related entry in their clinical records. SSRIs were prescribed to 16,925 (1%) of children. SSRI prescription rates decreased from 3.2 (95%CI:3.0,3.3) per 1,000 person-years at risk (PYAR) in 2002 to 1.7 (95%CI:1.7,1.8) per 1,000 PYAR in 2005, but have since risen to 2.7 (95%CI:2.6,2.8) per 1,000 PYAR in 2009. Prescription rates for CSM-contraindicated SSRIs citalopram, sertraline and especially paroxetine dropped dramatically after 2002, while rates for fluoxetine and amitriptyline remained stable. After 2005 rates for all antidepressants, except paroxetine and imipramine, started to rise again. Rates for depression diagnoses dropped from 3.0 (95%CI:2.8,3.1) per 1,000 PYAR in 2002 to 2.0 (95%CI:1.9,2.1) per 1,000 PYAR in 2005 and have been stable since. Recording of symptoms saw a steady increase from 1.0 (95%CI:0.8,1.2) per 1,000 PYAR in 1995 to 4.7 (95%CI:4.5,4.8) per 1,000 PYAR in 2009.
Conclusions: The rates of depression diagnoses and SSRI prescriptions showed a significant drop around the time of the CSM advice, which was not present in the recording of symptoms. This could indicate caution on the part of GPs in making depression diagnoses and prescribing antidepressants following the CSM advice.