Warning on antidepressants as NICE updates its advice

GPs should not prescribe antidepressants routinely for long periods, or to treat mild depression, NICE has warned.

Antidepressant scrip concerns

Updated guidance published this week says GPs should only consider the drugs for patients with moderate or severe depression, or those suffering sub-threshold depressive symptoms for at least two years.

The latest guidance comes as research in the BMJ revealed an increase in long-term anti-depressant use across the UK.

The researchers assessed all cases of depression from 1993 to 2005 across 170 surgeries, covering 1.7 million patients.

They found that scrips per patient rose from 2.8 in 1993 to 5.6 in 2004, despite a drop in the number of patients diagnosed with depression. The rise may be due to more patients taking antidepressants long term.

Lead researcher Professor Tony Kendrick, from the University of Southampton, said: 'We estimate that more than two million people are now taking antidepressants long-term over several years, in particular women aged 18 to 30.

'Our previous research found that, although these drugs are said not to be addictive, many patients found it difficult to stop them due to withdrawal symptoms including anxiety.

'Many wanted more help from their GP to come off the drugs. We do not know how many really need them and whether long-term use is harmful. This has similarities to the situation with Valium in the past.'

Bristol GP Dr David Kessler, a member of the NICE depression guideline development group, said: 'There has been some concern that we are prescribing too many antidepressants. You have to look at each case carefully, but there is a group of patients who will need the drugs.'

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