Sunday, August 5, 2007

Kiwi doc's write 1 million scripts for happy pills

And, who was that silly person that said New Zealand is the land of milk and honey ?

By LOIS WATSON - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 5 August 2007

FILL 'ER UP: New Zealand's doctors wrote more than 1 million prescriptions for anti-depressants last year.

School children are increasingly being prescribed anti-depressants and other mind-altering drugs, despite official warnings about their safety.

Under 18-year-olds were given more than 72,000 prescriptions for drugs for mental health problems last year, figures from the government drug-buying agency Pharmac show.

Yet MedSafe warned doctors three years ago about the risks of prescribing anti-depressants to young people and the importance of monitoring them closely.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Star-Times show the number of prescriptions for children aged six to 18 who are on anti-depressants - including the selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which have been linked to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour - now stands at 15,245 - up from just over 11,000 five years ago.

And the number of children taking behaviour-altering drugs Ritalin and Rubifen for conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also continues to rise, up from 53,219 prescriptions in 2003 to 55,301 last year.

Nationally the number of prescriptions for anti-depressants topped the million mark for the first time - up from 697,574 in the year ended June 2001 to 1,004,471 in the year to June 2006.

The increased use of anti-depressants among children comes despite the publication of research showing that children given anti-depressants run a higher risk of self-harm and are more likely to attempt suicide.

Pharmac medical director Peter Moodie said he suspected doctors were heeding the warnings about the use of anti-depressants in young people and that most scripts for the drugs were now written by psychiatrists.

Warnings about the dangers associated with SSRIs had coincided with greater public awareness of depression, which could explain why levels remained high, he said. Pharmac was continuing to monitor the situation.

"The reality is that there are sometimes children or young people who do need anti-depressants," Moodie said.

Dr Allen Fraser, from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, said the increased availability and effectiveness of child psychiatric services in New Zealand was undoubtedly a factor in the continued rise in the use of anti-depressants among young people.

"There is a need to treat people with depression, whether adolescents or adults, in the best way possible. For some people, the best way of treating them is with medication," Fraser said.

A child psychiatrist, when dealing with a new patient, looked at all treatment options before going down the path of medication, he said.

"Medication has never been the first-line of treatment by child psychiatrists, but it's never been the last line either."

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