Antidepressant Use in America

Antidepressant use – and abuse – has become a prominent medical and public health issue in the United States, as more and more data become available on the scope of mental illness among Americans.  During the first half of 2019, nearly one in 20 adults in the United States reported having regular feelings of depression, according to NCHS data¹.  Depression is mentioned at nearly one in 10 visits to doctors offices² in the United States, and the percentage of adults who received a benzodiazepine prescription at these visits increased from 4.1% in 1996 to 5.6% in 2013³.  In addition, the number of office visits by patients with one or more benzodiazepine prescriptions more than doubled between 2003 and 2015³.

At the same time, misuse and abuse of these medications has taken a severe toll on American society.  The number of overdose deaths in the United States from psychostimulants with abuse potential, which include antidepressants like benzodiazepine, have increased dramatically over a two decade span, from 547 deaths in 1999 to 12,676 deaths in 2018, the last year final data are available for the country⁴. Provisional data for the one-year period ending in January 2020 show the annual tally has increased to 16,854 deaths⁵.

On September 4, NCHS released a new analysis using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) showing that antidepressant use among American women has increased during the past decade, from 2009-2010 to 2015-2018⁶.  Women are more than twice as likely as men to use antidepressants – 17.7% of adult women vs. 8.4% of men.  Nearly one in four women age 60 and over are using antidepressants according to the study – the highest percentage of any group. 

The new report also shows that non-Hispanic white adults are more than twice as likely to use antidepressants than Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black or Asian adults.  This analysis is another important piece of the research puzzle using data that will help guide both the medical and public health community moving forward.

 ¹ Early Release of Estimates Based on Data from the January-June 2019 National Health Interview Survey.

² National Ambulatory Health Care Survey, 2016, Table 18.

³ Physician Office Visits at Which Benzodiazepines Were Prescribed: Findings From 2014–2016 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey

Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999-2018

Provisional Data, National Vital Statistics System, February 1, 2019-January 31, 2020

⁶  Antidepressant Use Among Adults: United States, 2015-2018

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