Mental Health Prescriptions Increased by 73% Among Adults, 50% Among Children From 1996-2006, Study Finds
From 1996 to 2006, prescriptions for mental health medications increased by 73% among U.S. adults and by 50% among children, according to a study published on Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs, the Wall Street Journal reports. The study found that the number of U.S. seniors receiving psychotropic medications, including dementia and antipsychotic drugs, doubled during that time period. The study also found that in 2006, one in 10 adults and one in 20 children took at least one prescription for mental health.
A separate study also published in Health Affairs on Tuesday found that per-capita spending for mental health care increased by more than 30% over the same 10-year period, with nearly all of the increase caused by psychiatric drug costs. According to the study, for about 30 years ending in 2000, mental health cost growth remained relatively flat at about 1% of the annual gross domestic product and grew at about half the rate of other health care spending. However, spending began to climb sharply after 2000. Drugs accounted for 51% of mental health care costs in 2006, while drugs accounted for 26% of spending for all other health care costs, according to national data.
Richard Frank, a health economist at Harvard Medical School and an author for both studies, said that the growth in mental health care costs is often related to the costs for the drugs. He attributed the rise in mental health spending and prescription rates to better access to care, but noted that he has "seen some stalling in recent years" in that trend -- possibly because there is greater reliance of the use of psychiatric drugs compared with other forms of psychosocial treatments such as therapist visits. "What that says to me is the increase in drugs by itself -- just expanding the number of people who appropriately get drugs -- can get you improvement," he said, but added that medication alone "may not be enough" without adequate psychosocial support, especially for patients with severe disorders (Wang, Wall Street Journal, 5/5).
The first study is available online. The second study also is available online. Both studies were published as part of a Health Affairs thematic issue -- titled "Mental Health Care: Better, Not Best" -- which examines various mental health care trends and issues, such as spending, drug costs, comparative effectiveness, access for veterans and supported employment.