A team of researchers from Montreal-based McGill University said that antidepressants were being frequently to treat conditions other than depression. "We wanted to see exactly why antidepressants were being prescribed, how often, and for what indications," study author Jenna Wong, M.Sc., of McGill University, told CBS News.
The findings of the study were published in JAMA. For the study, the researchers analyzed nearly 10 years of medical records that include more than 100,000 prescriptions written by about 160 primary care physicians for almost 20,000 patients in Quebec, Canada. All antidepressants were included by the researchers in their investigation except monoamine oxidase inhibitors -- an older drug which is prescribed very rarely.
The study showed that only 55 percent of all antidepressant prescriptions in the study were given to patients to treat depression. The remaining 45 percent were prescribed to treat other conditions, including anxiety disorders, insomnia, pain, and panic disorders.
Wong remarked that the findings are without doubt disturbing because some of the off-label uses may not be backed by scientific evidence. "I can't make a statement to say that for sure they don't work or that they are exposing patients to health risks but there's the possibility that they could be causing adverse health effects or that they may not be effective for the conditions," she said. "Without any scientific evidence, it's hard to be able to say."
But Dr. Norman Sussman, a psychiatrist and Director of the Treatment Resistant Depression Program at NYU Langone Medical Center, points out that antidepressants have several potential uses.
"For insomnia use, most knowledgeable internists prescribe many of these medications because they are more effective and less problematic than drugs indicated for insomnia, such as Lunesta and Sonesta, which can have addiction counter-indications," he told CBS News.