Americans are taking a “startling” amount of mental-health related medications, according to a big new study by Medco Health Solutions. More than 1 in 5 Americans now takes at least one drug to treat a psychological disorder, ranging from antidepressants like Prozac to anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax. Understanding why Americans are taking more pills to treat mental illness “is the next critical goal,” says Dr. Martha Sanjatovic in a statement released by Medco. Here’s a look this growing trend, by the numbers:
Grassley, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote to state Medicaid agencies earlier this year, asking them to list their top 10 prescribers of eight drugs commonly used in psychiatry. It may be that these doctors have good reasons for writing the most prescriptions for these drugs, such as OxyContin and Xanax, but it might also point out instances of overuse or even fraud. In Florida, for example, one physician wrote 96,685 prescriptions for mental health drugs over a 21-month period. That works out to more than 150 prescriptions a day, seven days a week, for nearly two years.
A Miami doctor wrote nearly 97,000 prescriptions in 18 months for mental health drugs. An Ohio physician wrote more than 100,000 prescriptions in two years. A Texas doctor wrote more than 14,000 prescriptions for the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. These alarmingly high prescriptions numbers for mental health drugs covered by Medicare and Medicaid have prompted Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to call for an investigation, the Associated Press reports.
Minnesota doctors are again under the microscope of an influential U.S. senator from Iowa — this time because of concerns that expensive medications are being overprescribed at great cost to the publicly funded Medicaid and Medicare programs. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, notified federal authorities Wednesday that he found potential examples of overprescribing after requesting lists from states, including Minnesota, of doctors who issued the most prescriptions for antipsychotic and narcotic medications in 2008 and 2009.
Speaking and consulting gigs for drug companies can be lucrative for doctors. Birmingham, Alabama, psychiatrist James E. Parker was paid more than $21,000 in speaking fees between January and March by a Johnson & Johnson company that sells mental health drugs.