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GPs curb scripts for antidepressants

GPs have sharply curbed new prescriptions of antidepressants in the past few years, research from the UK drug regulator has revealed.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency insisted its own warnings and guidance from NICE had helped drive figures down.

But overall prevalence of antidepressant use continued to climb between 2000 and 2005, indicating many patients remained on the drugs for long periods of time.

Study leader Dr Lesley Wise, pharmacoepidemiology manager at the MHRA, said: 'We hoped to see this in line with guidance issued in 2003 and 2004 by the MHRA and NICE that drug therapy should not be used for mild depression.'

The analysis of the UK general practice research database showed antidepressant prescribing for women fell from a peak of 23.6 per 1,000 in 2001 to 16.1 per 1,000 in 2005. In men the rates fell from 12.7 per 1,000 in 2002 to 9.3 per 1,000 in 2005.

The most marked decline for both sexes occurred between 2004 and 2005.

But prevalence in women rose from 45.1 to 62.1 from 2000 to 2005, and in men from 20.1 to 29.3 over the same period.

Mental health experts warned GPs needed better guidance on how to take patients off drugs to avoid inappropriate long-term use.

Professor Chris Dowrick, head of the department of primary Care at the University of Liverpool, said: 'There is a tendency to start people on antidepressants and then just keep it going. Patients get anxious and GPs don't know what to do.'

There are also concerns reductions in drug use are putting pressure on scarce psychological therapy services.

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