Tranquilizers: Usage trends

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 3:46 pm

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that over 60 million people receive prescriptions for tranquilizers every year. In the 1980s, the focus of psychiatric care was on depression and its treatment; in the 1990s, the focus turned to the early identification, diagnosis, and treatment of anxiety disorders. This shift in focus resulted in a corresponding shift in drug usage patterns.
In targeting those suffering from anxiety, pharmaceutical companies generated greater consumer demand for their drugs. Prescriptions for one class of these drugs, the BZDs, already are estimated at nearly 100 million a year in the United States, at a cost of about $500 million. Some estimates place the total cost at $800 million or more.
Scope and severity
Since the early 1960s, the BZDs have accounted for more than half the total world sales of tranquilizers. As of 2002, the BZDs were the most commonly prescribed class of tranquilizers in the United States. According to FDA data, however, there has been a dramatic decline in the use of minor tranquilizers and other antianxiety drugs since 1975, when prescriptions peaked at 103 million. An American Psychiatric Association task force report estimates that annual prescriptions for BZDs have leveled off since the mid-1980s to about 61 million.
Age, ethnic, and gender trends
Although many Americans abuse prescription drugs, certain Usage trends can be seen among adolescents, young adults, older adults, and women. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (2000) statistics indicate that the sharpest increases in new users of prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes occurred in 12-17 and 18-25 year-olds. Among 12-14 year-olds, psychiatric medications (including sedative-hypnotics) and narcotics (opioids) were reportedly the two main classes of drugs used.
The 1999 Monitoring the Future Survey of eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders nationwide showed that general declines in the use of barbiturates, sedative-hypnotics, and opioids other than heroin in the 1980s leveled off in the early 1990s, with modest increases again in the mid-1990s.
According to a number of national surveys, men and women have roughly similar rates of nonmedical use of prescription drugs, with the exception of 12-17 year-olds. In this age group, young women are more likely than young men to use psychiatric drugs nonmedically. Also, among men and women who use either a sedative, antianxiety drug, or hypnotic, women are almost twice as likely to become addicted.
Studies indicate that women who were abused as girls, or who saw their mothers abused by a male partner, are more likely, as adults, to use tranquilizers and also illegal drugs. Also, women who are abused by their partners use more tranquilizers — as well as more alcohol — than other women. Other frequent tranquilizer users are those with only an elementary school education; those in the lowest income group; and those who do not work outside the home (including housewives, students, the disabled, and the retired).
In terms of approved medical use, the neuroleptics are often prescribed for children with autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Tourette’s syndrome. In addition, the popularity of the newer atypical neuroleptics for childhood bipolar disorder is growing rapidly, and sometimes these drugs are the only treatment offered. The neuroleptics are also commonly prescribed for the elderly in nursing homes or other institutional settings.

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