Longitudinal trends in the dispensing of psychotropic medications in Australia from 2009-2012: focus on children, adolescents and prescriber specialty

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2014 Oct;48(10):917-31. doi: 10.1177/0004867414538675. Epub 2014 Jun 13.


Objective: Longitudinal trends in the dispensing of antidepressant, antipsychotic and ADHD medications from 2009-2012 were examined according to age and gender of patient and prescriber speciality. Of particular interest were changing trends in the prescription of psychotropic medications to children, adolescents and young adults.

Method: Dispensing data for government-subsidised antidepressant, antipsychotic and ADHD medications were obtained from the database maintained by the Department of Human Services. Results were expressed in terms of number of prescriptions dispensed.

Results: Over the four- year study period, the dispensing of antidepressants, antipsychotics and ADHD medications showed overall increases of 16.1%, 22.7% and 26.1% respectively. The most rapid percentage increases in antidepressant and antipsychotic dispensing occurred in children aged 10-14 (35.5% and 49.1% respectively), while ADHD medication dispensing rose most rapidly in those aged 20-24 (70.9%). Dispensing to males was more common during childhood for all investigated classes while two-thirds of adult antidepressant prescribing was to female patients. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants varied by age and were as follows: fluoxetine (3-19 year olds), desvenlafaxine (20-24 years) and venlafaxine (>25 years). Risperidone was the most common antipsychotic dispensed to children under 15, quetiapine to adolescents and young adults (15-24 years), and olanzapine to adults. Methylphenidate was the most common ADHD medication in those aged under 25, and dexamphetamine the most common in adults. Most antidepressants and antipsychotics were prescribed by GPs (89.9% and 70.6% respectively), while the majority of ADHD medications were prescribed by paediatricians (59.1%).

Conclusions: Dispensing of psychotropic medications increased markedly from 2009 to 2012, with notable age-specific trends. General adherence to treatment guidelines is apparent, yet concerns exist regarding rapid increases in serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) antidepressant prescribing, the likely overmedication of persons with mild psychological distress, and the increasing use of powerful psychotropic medications in younger populations despite uncertain risk-benefit profiles.

Keywords: ADHD medication; Antidepressant; antipsychotic; children and adolescents; dispensing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Australia
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Young Adult


  • Psychotropic Drugs