Antidepressant prescribing in Irish children: secular trends and international comparison in the context of a safety warning.

BACKGROUND: In 2003, the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) warned against the treatment of childhood depression with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) due to increased risk of suicide. This study examined the effect of this warning on the prevalence of anti-depressants in Irish children and compared age and gender trends and international comparisons of prescription rates.

METHODS: A retrospective cohort study of the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) pharmacy claims database for the General Medical Services (GMS) scheme for dispensed medication. Data were obtained for 2002-2011 for those aged ≤15 years. Prevalence of anti-depressants per 1000 eligible population, along with 95 % confidence intervals, were calculated. A negative binomial regression analysis was used to investigate trends and compare rates across years, sex and age groups (0-4, 5-11, 12-15 years). International prescribing data were retrieved from the literature.

RESULTS: The prevalence of anti-depressants decreased from 4.74/1000 population (95 % CI: 4.47-5.01) in 2002 to 2.61/1000 population (95 % CI: 2.43-2.80) in 2008. SSRI rates decreased from 2002 to 2008. Prescription rates for contra-indicated SSRIs paroxetine, sertraline and citralopram decreased significantly from 2002 to 2005, and, apart from paroxetine, only small fluctuations were seen from 2005 onwards. Fluoxetine was the most frequently prescribed anti-depressant and rates increased between 2002 and 2011. Anti-depressant rates were higher for younger boys and older girls. The Irish prevalence was lower than the US, similar to the U.K. and higher than Germany and Denmark.

CONCLUSIONS: The direction and timing of these trends suggest that medical practitioners followed the IMB advice.