DTC Ads Linked to Rise in Drug ‘Scripts for Teens

April 1, 2006

Prescriptions for psychotropic drugs for adolescents increased by 250% between 1994 and 2001. Researchers note that this trend coincides with the 6-fold increase in direct-to-consumer drug advertising.

by Dee Rapposelli

Prescriptions for psychotropic drugsfor adolescents aged 14 to 18 yearsincreased by 250% between 1994 and2001. The bulk of the momentumoccurred from 1999 onward, accordingto a study by a team from BrandeisUniversity in Waltham, Mass. Theteam, led by Cindy Parks Thomas,PhD, senior scientist at the ScheiderInstitute for Health Policy at Brandeisand an expert on prescription drugtrends, suggested that the sharpincrease was a result of changes infederal laws (FDA ModernizationAct) enacted in 1997 that alloweddirect-to-consumer (DTC) promotionof psychotropic drugs and relaxedregulations about promotion of off-labeluse of prescription medications.

Analyzing data from the NationalAmbulatory Medical Care Survey, theresearchers found that prescriptionsfor psychotropic drugs written forpersons aged 14 to 18 increased at arate of 8.3% between 2000 and 2001,compared with a 3.4% increasebetween 1994 and 1995. “By 2001,1 out of every 10 office visits by adolescentmales resulted in a prescriptionfor a psychotropic medication,” theresearchers wrote in the January issueof Psychiatric Services (ParksThomas CP et al. Psychiatr Serv.2006;57:63-69).

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorderwas the diagnosis in about athird of office visits during the periodstudied. No mental health–associateddiagnosis was made in 14% to26% of office visits that resulted inpsychotropic drug prescription.

The researchers noted that thetrend coincided with a 6-fold increasein spending (to $1.5 billion) by pharmaceuticalcompanies for DTC televisionadvertising between 1996and 2000. It was an increase thatprimarily took flight in 1997, presumablyon the wings of the FDAModernization Act. Thomas concededthat “reasons for [the] trendneed further scrutiny” and-apartfrom marketing issues-may includegreater acceptance of psychotropictherapies among physicians andgreater vigilance in mental healthscreening.